A hot mid-July Sunday morning in Juba. I jumped out of bed, realizing I was late for Church service at Grace Community Church(GCC).
This would be my first church service to attend after returning from Nairobi where I had been on formal mission for about a month. There was no way I could afford to miss it. It took almost an hour to get to the Church, just in time to catch the choir in worship. 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 me. As the sermon commenced, a crippled man, a regular at the church, crawled slowly on his bare knees and struggled to seat on one of the empty seats at the back.
Although I had seen him more than once, I had never taken time to get to know more about him. On this day however, I felt remorseful as I watched the bruises on his knees because of crawling on the stony bare ground. Questions lingered in my mind: How does this man live his life? I took out my notebook and jotted down 5 questions that I’d ask him. I wasn’t sure he’d allow me to interview him based on my experiences with such people. After the service, I grabbed a cup of coffee and talked to one or two people, keeping in mind that I had an interview to do. I walked back to the church and found my ‘target’ playing the piano. Each time the service ended he’d crawl to where the piano is and play music which cheered him up. I approached him and introduced myself. He said he is John Malish. The 34-year-old Malish is a South Sudanese from Acholi land and happens to be a father of three, a boy and two girls, born of different mothers so basically, he has three wives who stay together with their children at Magui, Uganda. He lives at Gumbo in the outskirts of Juba, in a house of one of his close childhood friends. He studied up to form 2 but was forced to drop out due to financial strains and disability. At that time, he was staying with his grandmother in Juba because his family was poverty-stricken and couldn’t afford to house, feed, clothe and educate him. He attended school in Juba till the age of 6 when he started experiencing severe muscle pains and when he went to hospital, the doctor told him that he lacked enough iron in the body and a healthy diet. 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 hard. It reached a point where he couldn’t move even an inch due to severe pains. 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 doomed Malish. The sad news was not well received by his family, so they disowned him blaming it on superstition (they thought he was bewitched) forcing him to dwell on the streets of Juba begging.
John believed that his life was cursed and therefore didn’t deserve to live and lived a life of resentment and self-pity. Life on the streets is uncouth. Merciless and foolish street boys rob him of whatever little he has, beat him up and insult him despite his situation. John cannot stay off the streets because that’s where he gets something small to eat but many times he sleeps hungry. I asked him how he commutes from home to the streets and he told me that his friend is a motorcyclist and helps move him from home to Juba Town and vice versa. His friend doesn’t help him, yet they stay in the same house and happen to be very close. The current economic crisis has turned people into no sense of compassion’ because they’re busy focusing on their own lives. 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 GCC
through a regular, Jonathan Khatiya who invited him to the church. I asked him if he had any vision/ hope for the future and with tears rolling down his cheeks he 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 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 a creature that isn’t visible to the human eye.” John Malish envisions a bright future and even though he’s in his 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 if the sound produced by the keys cheers him up and makes him feel human again.