JACK ZIMBA, Monze
GEORGE Sosela lies in a heap on a broken wooden bed, his shriveled body covered with a bed sheet, leaving only his graying head exposed. He is 60 years old and he has spent 45 of those years lying on his back in bed.
I met Mr Sosela on Independence Day in his simple house in Chiobola village in Chikuni area, Monze. It was our second meeting in about 10 years.
Mr Sosela shares the small house with his cousin Getrude Mulongo, who is also his guardian angel of sorts. She takes care of him.
He greeted me with a broad smile. Despite his pitiful condition, Mr Sosela usually keeps high spirits, laughing easily. On the day I met him, he was chatty, too, reminiscing about how exciting independence celebrations were back when he was a small boy.
Yes, before his condition, George Sosela was as active and playful as any kid his age, with great ambition.
“My dream was to become a teacher. I used to admire a lot the way teachers groom children and prepare them for the future,” he told me. “Teachers do a lot.”
But one day in 1968, when Mr Sosela was 11 years old, he felt severe pain in his legs and arms.
His parents’ first suspicion was polio, which was still prevalent at the time, but doctors at the nearby Chikuni Mission Hospital could not find the cause of the young boy’s condition.
Desperate to get their son back on his feet, Mr Sosela’s parents had turned to traditional medicine.
In 1972, when Mr Sosela was 15 years old, he could no-longer walk and his hands had also started wasting away.
Since then, his life has revolved around his bed. But it is a situation that Mr Sosela has come to accept as the will of God.
“I’m still happy because I know God knows about every person and He knows about me,” he said when I asked him the reason for his happiness. “Maybe He wanted me this way. I’m happy that I’m alive. God is with me.”
Hanging on the wall above Mr Sosela’s bed is a brightly-coloured image of Jesus Christ, His arms spread open. And once in a while, a priest from the local parish visits him to pray with him.
Mr Sosela has one thing to thank God for in his condition – he has no bedsores.
Bedsores are common in people who lie in bed for a long time, and if not taken care of, the sores can become septic and cause other health complications.
In fact, Mr Sosela counts it a miracle that he has no bedsores.
“You see that God is great?” he told me, a wide smile on his face. “I became bedridden in 1972 until today and I have never suffered from bedsores.”
But Mr Sosela also has his cousin Getrude to thank. She has taken care of him since 1989, when she, herself, was a little girl.
About three times a week, Gertrude washes Mr Sosela. And then about thrice in a week, Gertrude puts him outside to get some sunlight.
“I need to keep him clean all the time,” she said.
But one of her biggest challenge is water. There is only one borehole in this community, which usually runs out, especially in the hot season.
Sometimes, Gertrude has to wake up at 03:00 hours in order to draw some water before the water runs out.
Gertrude is a single mother with a low opinion about her potential suitors in the community.
“They are lazy and all they do is drinking,” she says, when I ask her why she remains single.
Gertrude dropped out of school in grade seven after she fell pregnant. She grows crops to feed the family, but it is not an easy task for her.
This year, she has only harvested 10 bags of maize. It is enough for the family to feed on for one year, but she worries about other needs such as bathing soap and other supplementary foods.
Gertrude also harvests elephant grass which she sells to earn a bit of money to buy soap or when her chickens lay enough eggs, she sells them at the local market.
“The community around notices my condition but they are too poor to help,” said Mr Sosela.
For some time, the family was on social welfare support, receiving K240 every two months but that support stopped coming in July.
Mr Sosela, himself, complains about economic hardships.
He has a strong voice and is very politically opinionated. He had wanted to vote in the general elections last year, but he could not because he does not have a national registration card. He has never had one.
“I really wanted to vote but I have no registration card,” he said.
Mr Sosela keeps himself abreast with current affairs through a radio lying beside his head.
He is a regular caller to phone-in programmes on Radio Chikuni and Sky FM.
There is also a television set in the corner of the room which he likes watching. But he now worries about the fees that he will be required to pay following the digital migration which requires TV viewers to pay subscription fees.
Mr Sosela, who was born on June 21, 1957, knows he has outlived many people’s expectation, perhaps mine as well.
And as if answering my unuttered question, he said:
“I’m still here. I’m sure when I die you will hear about it.”