VICTOR KALALANDA, Lusaka
FLOORIAM Phiri, 25, is no fictitious character. He has never felt how it is like to wear shoes in his life but he is real, like the apple of your eye, and for that matter the first university man his family has ever produced.His lot in life is due to an unusual feet condition that he was born with, which arguably any man can hardly believe is real.
He is the kind of person that never moans and groans, who readily accepts his situation as simply “one of those things”.
To perhaps be in his position one should imagine a man who will, of course, wear a three-piece suit, but be unable to fit in the glossy and gorgeous pair of shoes that comes with it—he has no choice and never does he wish surgery for his feet!
This writer stole a glance at the articulate and optimistic “Easterner” as he sauntered along University of Zambia (UNZA) corridors. The glance translated into a prolonged stare in a trice, for mine eyes could not easily relate.
There is no way my instinct could have failed to prise out a tale of inspiration from an individual who radiates an easy-going disposition, but has a condition many would pigeonhole a deformity.
Flooriam came along in 1993 in Petauke, Eastern Province as the third born child to Alizer and Malesi Phiri.
Even though his parents noticed that his feet had very strange appearance at birth, he would not be the cause for their divorce six years later.
In fact, it is his father that deserted the family, and he has since never returned.
“I have been raised by a single mother;” he states, and believes that “my father is still alive somewhere here in Lusaka though I have never seen him”.
According to the interactions he has held with his mother over the condition of his feet, there was, surprisingly, no staggering when he as a baby tried out walking: “My mother says I only stood up once without struggling and I was able to walk by myself,” he says.
Moreover, an even more incredible and shocking detail is that the medical officers Flooriam has been patronising since his childhood have never told him what his condition is nor its cause.
Despite growing up in villages of eastern Zambia with his feet attracting ridicule and raising eyebrows, he found his ground in academics and carved out a reputation for genius, performing way better than individuals who had normal feet and could thus afford shoes. It was as if he wanted to prove that deficiency in one part of the body does not write off one’s life.
He cannot wear shoes, exactly, but he stands to this day as the first person in his entire family to study at Zambia’s most prestigious bastion of knowledge, UNZA.
Additionally, his rise as the best pupil at both Lusandwa Primary School and Ukwimi “A” Basic School is eloquent testimony to the fairness of life. It can only be viewed, indeed, as His saving grace, for his contemporaries who could wear shoes do not share such an achievement.
In the wake of his emergence as the highest pupil with a hard-earned nine points at Katete Day Secondary School, the devout Jehovah’s Witness entered UNZA in 2017 and he is currently pursuing a major in Demography.
Joseph Phiri, who is one of his former colleagues at Katete and is studying mathematics at UNZA, vividly recollects that “Flooriam was always the best at Katete Day Secondary School and he left one of the best academic records there. He was so good that the school cancelled all his outstanding balances.”
He has been able to endure quizzical looks on people’s faces, on one hand, as well as pursue some romance, on the other hand, if the relationship he is in now is any clue.
“I have been dating since 2017 and my lady is in Katete where I come from,” he says with a somewhat faint smile.
To prevent his feet from getting hurt as he goes about his daily activities, Flooriam owns some slippers, which he has to replace every two weeks.
“Whenever the slippers wear out I have to buy new ones and that tends to be a challenge because sometimes money is not immediately available,” he explains emotively.
While others get shocked at Flooriam’s status, he has met acceptance in some of his fellow students
Gabriel Chundu, a second year UNZA student, says that Flooriam’s condition “is shocking considering that he has had it since he was born and struggles to walk”.
But another student Leya Tembo feels that “Flooriam is free and accepts himself. I am okay with him”.
An orthopaedist Bright Moyo mentions that Flooriam’s condition is a congenital disease, namely a late presentation of club foot (osteoporosis). He says that it is very treatable if presented early but needs multiple surgeries in its advanced stage.
“If Flooriam has found his independence the way he walks, it is fine. At this stage, an option would be to amputate and give him prosthetic limbs,” Dr Moyo says.
And Flooriam seems to understand Dr Moyo’s advice, as he says that “I’d love to change my situation but I know that surgery will worsen it, and I feel it. This is how I was born and I am used”.
His is a poignant condition, particularly if one considers that he cannot run or move about with feline grace, and that it is hard for him to appear fancy or sleek if all his footwear are slippers.
The bottom line, however, lies in his words: “I know my challenges but I avoid seeing myself as weak because that will make me do nothing.”
VICTOR KALALANDA, Lusaka