When Faiza Namukavo Odem and Ismail Odem Kayasi crossed paths three years ago, they never thought their bond would grow and culminate into marriage. But, as they narrate to Sylvia Wakhisi, God had already shaped their destiny
They say love is blind, and only God knows how He will bring two people together. Despite Ismail being physically disabled — he has not been able to walk since he was born — Faiza embraced him as a friend and, with time, their bond grew and they started dating. In addition, the two come from different religious backgrounds, Ismail is a Muslim while Faiza is a Christian, but that was not a hindrance to let their love. Today, the two are happily married and have been blessed with a baby girl born last month. Theirs is an example of true, unconditional love.
I met Ismail three years ago through a friend. There was just something different about him that kept me glued to him. From the way he talked — you could tell his level of confidence and self-esteem was just at the peak! He is a man who is very focused with what he does; very sharp, smart and witty. And that is the man who stole my heart. Before long, we became good friends. Our friendship blossomed and we soon started dating.
We both came to Nairobi to pursue some courses and the bond became tighter. Despite his condition, I deeply loved him for who he was and we decided to settle down.
I was born and brought up in Mombasa. We lived in Mtongwe and later moved to Webuye in Bungoma County where I grew up till I became an adult. I went to a private school in Webuye and later joined Nangili High School. I then proceeded to Utalii College where I studied a course in Front Office Operations. Ever since he was born, Ismail has never been able to walk. He uses a wheelchair to move around. When we met, Ismail was open to me about his condition right from the start.
We talked about it and he explained everything to me. His parents had visited various hospitals to get to know the root of the problem. Initially, doctors thought it was cerebral palsy but later ruled it out. Then it was suspected that it could have been brought about by poor care while he was in the incubator.
Our first encounter marked the beginning of our friendship, a friendship that grew with time. We were friends for about six months and then decided to start dating. Whenever I visited an aunt of mine who resides in Nairobi, Ismail and I would link up. We would take the time to go out for a cup of tea or share a meal and a conversation and this helped to strengthen our bond. When I joined college at Utalii and Ismail was at USIU, we would meet more often and even assist each other with our course work. Soon after, he introduced me to his parents. He said he wanted me to get to know his people because he felt I was someone special in his life. Then I also told him about my parents, although they never got to meet in person at that time because they were far away. But at least they knew I had this special friend in my life.
Ismail then told me of his intentions; that he would want us to settle down. There were a lot of objections, but I stood firm and said Ismail was the man I loved and had chosen to settle down with. People tried to separate us but as it is said, love surpasses many things and at the end of it all they had no option but to support us. Some of our friends could not understand why I had chosen someone like Ismail who could not walk. They felt he wasn’t good enough for me -- that ‘a pretty girl’ like me dating a man who couldn’t walk was just absurd to them.
My family members were surprised when I informed them that Ismail was a Muslim. I was brought up in a staunch Christian family and so introducing a fiancée who is a staunch Muslim sounded so complicated to them. But we sat down and expressed ourselves. We talked to them and they also offered advice. At the end of the day, they left us to make the final decision. Marrying a man who was not a Christian was a tough decision to make but I am not limiting myself to only Christian teachings. I am ready to learn the Islam doctrines.
The most important thing is communication with God and your personal relationship with Him, hence I get knowledge from both religions. But neither Ismail’s condition nor his religion were a concern to me. I was attracted to him the way he was. I wanted someone who would love, care and respect me for who I was and that is exactly the man he has turned out to be. He does not pretend and gives me his best all the time.
At first though, I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to handle and take care of him well but I asked God to grant me grace because we were both attracted to each other. The feeling was mutual. Ismail’s personality and character were the most important to me hence I chose to look at him beyond his disability. I decided to follow my heart and ask God to always give me strength. Our nikkah ceremony (signing of marriage contract) was conducted on April 7 this year.
I can’t hesitate to say that I love Ismail. I would choose him for the second, third and a million times. He has given me peace of mind and happiness which I thank God for. I treat him like any other wife would treat her husband. I respect and submit to him. I play my roles as any other loving wife would do.
By sharing our story, we just want to be a blessing to other people and prove to the world you can find love even when you are living with a disability. No matter your condition, it shouldn’t stop you from living your life to the fullest. And to also pass the message that people living with a disability shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to work in any institution. Give them a chance to prove themselves because they also have a lot of potential.
I was born in Masaba Hospital, which is currently known as Nairobi Women’s Hospital. I grew up in Eastlands before my parents moved to Kibera and later Syokimau. I attended Nairobi Muslim Academy and Allen Groove School, also in Nairobi, before proceeding to Malezi High School and later Kalimoni Senior School in Juja. I later joined United States International University (USIU) — Africa where I studied International Business Administration (IBA). I’m currently pursuing an MBA at USIU.
I was born with a disability. When I started school, I attended regular schools and I see that as a blessing because it brought out the best in me. It made me work extra hard to prove to others that we are one. Interacting with other children helps one to build their self-esteem, confidence and appreciate that there is nothing so different from them than the rest. What they can do, you can also do. It was not easy to find schools that could cater for my needs. Not many schools were wheelchair friendly. Up to Class Five, I was in a school where pupils embraced and took care of me. I felt at par with everyone. We played together and they helped me with class work and other stuff that posed a challenge to me.
But from Class Six, I was taken to a school with pupils from a background of a higher social class and the reception was not the same as with my previous school. The school administration did their part but I also needed acceptance and assistance from my fellow schoolmates. They would only help when they benefited like getting a few minutes away from class or when we went for school trips. I had a difficult time because no one wanted to tag me along with them to go have fun.
Due to my inability to walk, I couldn’t do other things that children do. I couldn’t play while my friends played and I was only left to watch them from afar. My writing speed was a bit slow, which made me slow down in my school work.
As a teenager, it was hard for me to feel accepted by my peers. Some were very hostile towards me. Every other boy had a girl they admired and I noticed that they had an easy time befriending them. But no one was interested in me.
Things got a bit better in high school. At first I was in Malezi which was a day school but it was hectic to operate to and from school due to my condition. My parents decided to look for a boarding school that would suit my special needs, though it took some time. While in Form 3, I joined Kalimoni Senior School. It was a boy’s boarding school which gave me the opportunity to be like every other student. Although I had a helper, I really enjoyed being in that school.
After high school, I searched for a university where I would be comfortable and I settled for USIU-Africa. It was wheelchair friendly and I could move around easily. The biggest challenge I faced was when it came to my love life. Few women were ready to allow me to be more than a friend to them. At some point, I was starting to give up on ever having a family. But God had saved the best for me.
When I met Faiza, what first struck me about her was her beauty. She was in a pair of blue jeans, a grey top and pink sweater. She offered to help me move around and this attracted me to her even more. The kindness and care she showed me, despite the fact that it was our first meeting, was proof enough that she was a good soul.
When I told her that I was a Muslim, she said she respected the religion of every individual and would take time to know more about the Islam teachings and doctrines. I was looking for love. I told myself that when we get to that bridge, for as long as true love exists between us, we will not fail to have an understanding when it comes to matters religion. I gave Faiza the will and time to think through and decide on her willingness to convert to Islam. I explained the essentials of Islam so that she would be in a position to make an informed decision.
Now we are one. We pray together and the most important thing is that we speak to one God and our prayers are answered. I thank God that she accepted to join Islam and she is slowly learning more about it. We will definitely raise our children as Muslims because we have both decided to follow Islam and we subscribe to its beliefs. Our children will be raised as Muslims who are very strong in the faith.
When we made open our intentions to settle down, we were faced with a lot of criticism and discouragement from a section of family and friends. My parents embraced Faiza and gave us their blessings. They told us that the final decision lied with us and they would respect it.
Though we are not yet financially stable as we are still looking for jobs, we are grateful that we have a place to stay and God has continued to provide for us through the support of their families and friends.
I graduated last year from university. I have applied for not less than 40 jobs but I have not yet received any feedback, even an invitation for an interview. I have also registered with the National Council for Persons With Disabilities. It’s unfortunate that most organisations are not brave enough to give us a chance to prove ourselves.
By sharing our story, we just want to encourage other people out there that nothing in life is permanent. When you are born, you don’t decide to be who you are or how your physical appearance will be. But despite any limitation you may have, you should not let it be a stumbling block to stop you from achieving your dreams.
I would like to be an inspiration to other persons living with a disability and let them know that there is nothing they cannot achieve if they have the zeal and will. And to parents with children living with a disability, give them an enabling environment to thrive into the best they can.