It is said that ‘A mother is a daughter’s best friend.’ Perhaps no sight best exemplifies this than that of visually-impaired Fumbi Josiah and her eight-year-old daughter, Seteminire. Aside being the eyes through which she reads and watches her environment, Seteminire also polices her very well, causing The Nation’s Gboyega Alaka to seek a conversation with both mother and daughter.
THEY were a spectacle. Mum and daughter. It was at the occasion of a workshop by the NGO, Project Alert on Violence Against Women, to enlighten a select group of persons with disabilities on the war against gender-based violence, as part of an ongoing Spotlight Initiative campaign to eliminate violence against women and girls. A card, containing a list of SGBV (Sexual and Gender-based Violence) referral centres had just been passed round to participants. Fumbi Josiah collected a copy and pronto, handed it over to her daughter, Seteminire, who proceeded to read its content to her mother.
Before then, you really may not know that the well-dressed, well-comported lady sitting in the corner of the room, had sight issues or that she was visually impaired – save for the guide cane, neatly folded on her laps. However, the quiet bond between the two, the rapport and the policeman-like posture of Seteminire, who had earlier responded with a sharp gaze, when this reporter, took the photograph of her and her mum, proved irresistible to this reporter. Just how does an eight-year-old – as he later found out – assume such responsibility and role? Is this how she has always been? How long has Fumbi herself been without her sight? As expected of nosey journalists, several questions welled up.
“I was not born blind; I lost my sight in 2002, precisely 18 years ago. I was in JSS II in boarding house at Baptist Girls College, Abeokuta,” Fumbi started.
“I just noticed– no – it was actually my mum who noticed that I was not seeing well, because I started falling into gutters, hitting my legs and walking into things and people. So, we decided to visit an optician. The mistake we made at the time was that we didn’t know there was a difference between an optician and an ophthalmologist; so we continued patronising an optician and they were just recommending glasses after glasses. But I’d use the glasses and there would still be no changes. In fact, it was getting worse… until somebody told my mum to take me to a specialist hospital. That was where we were told that it was glaucoma. We were told that glaucoma makes the eyes deteriorate; that it makes the sight go away little by little until there is no sight left – unless an operation is done early to arrest it. At the stage I was, they told me I would never recover the sight I’d lost; and that’s how I ended up with low vision.”
Low vision? Would that mean that she still has a bit of sight? “Yes,” said, “it’s called low vision.” Would that mean she can navigate her way on the streets and do things by herself? “No, I can’t o. I use my guide stick to know how low or high the road is; my vision is very low,” she reiterated.
Asked if she noticed any sign that her sight was failing, Fumbi said, “Yes, if I can call it (the falling) that, but I didn’t have or feel any pain; it was just reducing.
Did she panic? “Of course I did, but I was like ‘maybe when we do the surgery, I would rescue whatever was left to be able to move around. But after the surgery, like eight years ago, when I gave birth to my first child, I discovered that the sight was deteriorating further. There and then, I really panicked that I may be going blind. So the full plight of my condition didn’t really get to me until eight years ago, because up until then, I was still managing to keep my teaching job at a private primary school. I did the operation 13 years ago in 2007 and went on to do my NCE in 2008 at Federal College of Education (Special) Oyo.”
She added that her sight never really got better after the operation, “It remained the same as it was, low.”
Asked what her first line of thought were when her situation finally dawned on her, Fumbi said, “I felt very bad but I had hope; I still have hope. I believe God will some day heal me. So my first line of thought was: ‘How can I cope? How can I earn a living – because I could no longer retain my teaching job at that point? I had to quit my teaching when it dawned on me that I could no longer see the board or mark my pupils’ books plus other routine stuff; I had to quit before they sent me away or the parents started coming in to complain. Although the proprietor was already complaining, he was still a bit tolerant and hoping I could manage. That really got to me and made me sad. I thought, how would I achieve my life goals?”
Going by her look – she’s quite pretty, even without make-ups, and her smart comportment, one could tell that Fumbi has managed to stay above her situation, at least as best as she could; but what were the challenges she faced when the full weight of her situation hit her?
“Well I’ve never been the out going type right from time – apart from maybe church or family gathering. My social life wasn’t that much; so socially, it didn’t affect me much. I was born and bred in Flour Mills Estate in Satelite Town in Lagos, so we rarely went out, except on weekends, when we went to church. Maybe I missed the choir but the moment the challenge set in, I was no longer able to relate and fit in.
“So, what I was just looking up to was that, hopefully, one day, when I got married, I would get a man who would be able to take care of me and carry me along in all those social things. So for me, it was like life had to go on. I couldn’t begin to dwell on my situation or get depressed,” she said.
But she once nursed suicidal thoughts; and today, she has the thought of her daughter to thank for being alive.
“Yes, I had suicidal thought when I gave birth to my first child, Seteminire. I have two now; the second is a boy, Firewamiri. When I saw that all I could do was just sit at home, doing nothing; I couldn’t get a job; I tried a number of times with the government – because I knew that was about my biggest bet; but no luck. My husband’s job wasn’t such a big paying job, and to top it up, I had lost both my parents. So everything just came down on me and one day I went to buy this insect repellent, Sniper, with the intention to drink it and end it all. But just as I was about to go ahead, a thought came to my mind, or rather, a voice. It said to me: ‘If you kill yourself, you will go and leave your daughter to be motherless. You don’t have any parent; do you want your child to go through what you’re going through? Do you want this child too to grow up without a mother?’
“I tell you, there is a role a mother plays in the life of a child that cannot be overemphasised. So at that point, I told myself, ‘I love my daughter; I don’t want to be without her; I don’t want to leave her alone in this world.’ It was the thought of her that made me drop that bottle of poison. I believe it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me at that point. So I just thought there is hope and that things would get better.”
Coping with her situation
Did she have to go through any kind of rehabilitation?
“Of course!” She said. “I went to Federal College of Education (Special) Oyo. There, I learnt to read and write with Braille. I was also taught mobility skills; I was taught Daily Living Skills; that is how I learnt do my house chores by myself. They also taught me how to move about with the help of my guide cane.”
Asked to assess the facility at the college vis-a-vis its overall impact on her life, Fumbi said, “Of course, they are good. They impacted me well, especially in the area of daily living skills. In fact, a friend of mine once called to ask how I managed my daily chores, and I told him I do them myself. He assumed that my daughter and husband must be heavily involved in the procedures but I told her I do them myself. However, that is not to say I do not need or get their assistance from time to time. I sweep, I wash, I bath my children; even when they were much younger, I did these things myself. So the daily living skills I learnt at the college have come handy.”
Does she have any job or means of generating income?
“Nothing much. The only thing I do now is to make disinfectants, since I’ve not been able to get a government job. I do that to keep body and soul together and I sell in my neighbourhood. I learnt to make it at a skills acquisition training programme organised by my church member. Although I paid for it, the woman taught me in a way that suited.”
But isn’t dealing with chemicals a bit dangerous for someone in her condition?
“I thought of it but what could I do? I couldn’t just stay without working. I had to do something to earn a living and assist my husband, while quietly hoping that my children, as they grow up, would come to understand that such and such chemical are dangerous. Right now, I mix them alone or with the assistance of my husband.”
Meeting her love
She met him at FCE (Special) Oyo, she said. He’s not disabled, she explained, as if expecting the next line of question.
“The school admits both able and persons with disability. What really attracted me to Jeremiah was the fact that he was a friendly and nice person. He always willing and ready to help those of us with disability. If he saw us going to fetch water, he helped us; if he saw me going out, he came to my aid.
“The day he first proposed to me, I was taken aback. I was like, could he be for real? Could I really get married to a man who is not physically challenged. Even though I expressed my surprise and doubt, deep inside me, I was very happy that he proposed. We got along well during courtship and got married not long after.”
Asked how they dealt with the usual opposition to such union by family and relatives, Fumbi said, “In that area, I would say I was lucky, because usually, out of 100, it is hard to see a man whose family would allow him to marry a blind, deaf or lame person without any ‘fight’. But with Jeremiah, I had no such problem. Even the aunt was just like a mother to me, impressing it on her nephew that, ‘Ah, Jeremiah, you have to really take care of this girl o.’ So God really helped me in that area. I didn’t have any problem with his people. Besides, if he had any doubt or cause to hesitate, I’m sure seeing that I was not the lazy type also helped him make up his mind.”
So far, she says the union has been fulfilling. The major challenge, as far as she is concerned, is the fact that only one person, her husband, is shouldering the responsibility and care for the whole family.
“It is not easy for just one person to be providing for the whole family, especially in these trying times. So, really, I wish I had a better means of income to support my husband. But I thank God still.”
Asked to assess Lagosians’ attitude to people living with disability, Fumbi’s voiced livened up. “Lagosians’ are wonderful when it comes to assisting people with challenges. As long as they see that you are not looking tattered, they freely offer their help and assistance. Even before you open your mouth to say, ‘Please I want to board a bus going to this direction, or cross a road,’ they quickly offer their help. So I can give Lagosians a pass mark when it comes to their attitude and disposition towards persons with disability.”