It was a very hot Sunday morning in Juba, the 15th July 2018 when I dashed out of bed after realizing that I was very late for Church service at Juba Riverview Community Church (JRCC) where I attend as a regular but this particular Sunday happened to be my first after returning from Nairobi where I had been on a formal mission for about a month so there was no way I could afford to miss this particular service. Due to limited transport facilities and the distance between my residential area and the Church, it took me almost an hour to get to the Church but after all, I made it. I came just in time to catch the choir adding some flavor to the worship session then the notices, giving and prayers followed thereafter. The pastor gave a shout out to the new comers and those who had been away for long, like myself. As the sermon commenced, a crippled man who happens to be a regular at the church came in. He crawled slowly on his bare knees and struggled to seat on one of the empty seats behind.
Although I had seen him more than once, I had never taken my time to get to know more about him. On this day however, I felt remorseful as I watched the bruises on his knees which were as a result of crawling on the stony bare ground and questions started to linger in my mind of how this man manages to live his life so I took out my notebook and jotted down 5 questions which I’d ask him but again, it depended on how he’d respond to my curiosity. I wasn’t so sure whether he’d allow me to interview him based on my experiences with people of his kind. Immediately after the service, I rushed out to grab a cup of coffee and talked to one or two people so as to get to know about their welfare and vice versa keeping in mind that I had an interview to do. I walked back to the Church and found my ‘target’ playing a key or two on the piano as this happened to be a habit, each time the service ended he’d crawl to where the piano usually is and then strike some keys to make some sort of musical sound which made him cheerful and jovial. So, I managed to gather some courage and approached him, I introduced myself and he introduced himself as John Malish. Without wasting any time, I went straight to the point and our ‘query session’ began. 34-year-old John Malish is a South Sudanese from Acholi land and happens to be a father of 3 children (1 boy and 2 girls).
Interestingly, his children were born of different mothers so basically, he has 3 wives who stay together with their children at Magui, Uganda. Currently, he’s being housed at Gumbo (Outskirts of Juba) by one of his close friends whom they grew up together in the same village. Due to financial strains and his disability, John did his education up to High School (Form 2) where he was forced to drop out. At that time, he was staying with his grandmother in Juba because his family was poverty-stricken and couldn’t afford even a single penny to house, feed, cloth and educate him leaving him with no choice but to stay with his grandmother who was living from hand to mouth. He attended school in Juba till the age of 6 when he started experiencing severe muscle pains and when he went to the Hospital, the doctor told him that he lacked enough iron in the body and a healthy diet so he was put under medication for about a month. This medication helped him in a way because he got back on his feet and embarked on his studies but 6 months later, the severe muscle pains started again and this time they hit him pretty hard. It reached a point where he couldn’t move even an inch due to the severe pains he was experiencing. He was taken back to the hospital and was put under the same medication he had before but it was all in vain, polio had gotten the better part of him and young Malish was doomed to be crippled for eternity. The sad news wasn’t well received by his family so they disowned him blaming it on superstition (they thought John was bewitched) therefore forcing him to dwell on the streets of Juba begging.
John believed that his life was cursed and therefore didn’t deserve to live, he lived a life full of resentment and self-pity. Life for him on the streets is so uncouth in that, some merciless and foolish street boys rob him of whatever little he has, beat him up and insult him despite his situation (shame unto them). John cannot stay off the streets because that was where he’d find something small to eat but many at times, he sleeps hungry. I asked him how he commutes from home to the streets and he told me that his friend, the one he stays with, is a motorcyclist and helps him move from home to juba and vice versa. Funny enough, his friend doesn’t help him yet ironically, they stay in the same house and happen to be very close but the current economic crisis has unfortunately turned people into ‘beasts who have no sense of compassion’ because they’re busy focusing on their own lives as well. I asked him about his religious affiliations and he told me that if it wasn’t for his professed Christian faith, he would have been ‘history’ ages ago because he used to contemplate suicide. He came to know about JRCC through a regular, Jonathan Khatiya who invited him to the Church. I asked him if he had any vision(s)/ Hope for the future and with tears rolling down his cheeks he took a deep breath then sighed and said “If only people could see beyond my disability and show compassion and love towards me, I’d really appreciate. It’s not all about the money after all, I just want to be like the rest of you and feel human because right now, I feel like I’m just a certain creature that isn’t visible to the human eye.” John Malish envisions a bright future ahead and despite the fact that he’s almost in his late thirties, he still hopes that one day he’ll embark on his education and live his dreams. He also told me that he has a passion for music and wishes that one day one time, someone could teach him how to play the piano (that’s why he’s always fiddling with the piano keys) even though he knows not what he’s doing as long as the sound produced by the keys cheers him up and makes him feel human again.