Paralysed woman's struggles in face of strange illness

Julia Sote at her home in Kinyach village, Baringo County. Right: Her husband, Chemalan Chebii, who is partially blind. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]
Julia Sote was a perfectly healthy mother until 2002 when everything started going wrong.

Suddenly, her legs could not hold up her body.

For the last 16 years, she has wondered what could have sucked the strength off her legs after 29 years of a normal life.

She says her legs would swell sometimes, but she ignored that, largely because she could not afford a hospital visit. 

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“I was born perfectly healthy. I do no know what disease this is. It just took away my legs and I  can no longer walk,” she says.

They say when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.

Strange ailment

Shortly after the strange ailment disabled her, her husband Chemalan Chebii, 70, became partially blind.

Suddenly, Julia found herself in a dilemma. Someone had to step in to take care of their six children, the last born having just turned nine.

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Someone had to pay school fees for their other son at Kapngetuny Boys High School. The boy was constantly sent home due to lack of school fees. 

Farming was out of question. The family compound is largely a rocky patch that can barely sustain any crop.

Then a mother’s resilience and ingenuity kicked in. The rocks! She would not have to beg for as long as there were stones around her.

It is a tough job, one that is largely dominated by men. But a woman with little choices left, develops a spirit harder than a rock; hard enough to crush the hardest rock into ballast.

Today, Julia, 45, is the family’s sole breadwinner after refusing to allow her condition to turn her into a beggar.

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At first sight, one would be forgiven for wondering how she manages to collect the pieces of rocks and bring them under a lone tree where she sits pounding them into ballast everyday.

“The whole family depends on me. I had to get something out of my sitting here. My legs were paralysed, but not my arms,” she says.

Rocks come to her

She does not have to go to the rocks, they come to her. All she does is get someone to bring them to her. She has had that done, first by her children, then some hired villagers.

When she is done crushing the rocks, Julia patiently waits under the tree for clients. Sometimes the wait is long and depressing.

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Sometimes the heaps of crushed rocks lie under the tree for days, even months, with no client in sight. With the poverty around her, market for ballast is as hard to come by as the rocks she crushes for a living.

“I don’t sell everyday. Early this year I made my biggest sale of 40 wheelbarrows,” she says.

Lately the sales have dwindled, yet her son is back home for school fees.

Two of her children are nursing snake bites. The serpents live behind the rocks that she loves to crush.

Still, Julia patiently sits under her tree waiting for clients, sometimes reminiscing the old days.

“I miss the old days when I would do menial jobs to provide for my family. The pain of seeing my children out of school is worse than that of not being able to walk,” she says.

Her neighbors and relatives say they are proud of her.

“She is hardworking and a good example to all of us,” says Richard Muchok, a neighbour.

Julia admits that relatives and friends sometimes chip in to help her and the family. She says she would not, however, need any help if she could walk.

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Baringo CountyParalysisJulia Sote