I woke up feeling dizzy. I tried raising my head but it was too heavy. I looked around and for several seconds I was lost. I had tubes in my arms; I was on drip. The air was acrid. I could not make out where I was. Slowly, memories started coming into picture …Ah! The playground! That’s where I was last. But this place… where was I now? “Doctor, she has come around” said a gentle voice.
I was a lone wolf. I was the kid no one wanted to associate with. I was very sad. My mother had passed on when I was in class one and I have never quite recovered from it. It is very hard to be motherless and friendless. Well, my father was too busy since he was a truck driver. Thus, I was forced to stay with my grandmother. I had siblings but they were in college and high school in boarding schools. My grandmother was a good old lady who was ageing with every ticking second. Four years had passed since my mother died. I was now in class 5 at Bandari Primary School.
At the beginning of the year, we moved to a new class and I found myself with no desk mate. “Maria smells of urine.” “Maria’s wound smells like a rotten egg”. “Maria likes getting angry over nothing”. “Maria is dirty and she is always scratching her body”. My classmates would say. In secrecy, I would cry so much.
On the second week after opening, a new girl joined our school. She was called Angela. The only available desk was next to me. When Mrs. Maneno told her to come and sit next to me, the whole class burst out laughing. My class teacher was taken aback, “what’s the matter?” she queried. Nobody answered. Then she picked on Kamau. Kamau was the tallest boy in class who hated me deeply. While in class four, he had abused me that I was a fat tank and one of my teachers overheard. He was beaten severely in the staff room. This heightened the hatred he had for me. Now I was very skinny and would secretly call me “mosquito” because I was now thin. Kamau stood and said, “Teacher, Maria does not bath and she smells all the time”. Then the sea of children laughed again giving each other high five. I looked down. I was embarrassed and heart broken. I always took a shower each morning. Well, about smelling, it is another whole lot of story for another day. Angela looked at the teacher, then looked at me and started crying. “I don’t want to sit with her!” she protested. The teacher ordered the new girl to sit next to me.
Mrs. Maneno called me at break time. I was nervous because I felt I was going to be beaten. Our science teacher always told us to be clean and bathe daily and I had religiously bathed every morning. But I kept on itching, itching and itching. My skin was flaked and my class mates would look at me like am a leper. My mouth was constantly dry. “Maria, you realize that you are constantly dropping. Is anything the matter? Is what your classmates told me true?” she asked me in a kind tone. “Teacher, they don’t love me. And I bathe every day, ask my grandmother. I read but I cannot see well from last term. The vision is not clear. My grandmother said she will take me to hospital when father returns.” My teacher looked alarmed. I could see it. She told me to go to class and would call me again later on.
My new desk mate sat at the extreme end and did not want any contact with me. She cried for the entire day. At games time, the rest of the school ran out to play kati and skip the rope. I wished I could join them. Even if I joined them, I could not skip because I was constantly tired. And besides, they would never let me join them anyway. So I stood watching and remembering how I used to skip with them in class one. But now, the wound, the smell all took a toll on me. I was always pressed and at times I would run to ease myself but few drops sneaked out before I could reach the toilet or when I found I long line at the toilet. I watched them play and my head started spinning.
“I cannot go to school anymore, doctor. People laugh at me. They tease me and make jokes about me. I want to stay at home with my grandmother. She is the only one who loves me.” I was talking amidst sobs. I was in hospital. “You will be fine, Maria,” said the doctor. “You’ll see. Just go to school when you feel better after few days. I will make sure they don’t laugh at you.”
The school had gathered for parade as usual. The headmaster mentioned that there was a guest who wanted to talk to us. I was excited. “Dr. Wandeo, please come and tell us more about what you have in store for us” he said. The moment I saw him, I wanted to run and hug him. He was the doctor who had treated me on the previous week and watched over me till I was in stable condition.
“Good morning to you all my children” he said. We chorused back the response. “How many of you love ugali, chapatti, cake, rice?” He started. The response was wild. Of course we did. “Now, when you eat them, what happens to you?” The answers were numerous. Some saying they become full, others saying they become strong, others said they become happy. He went ahead, “When you eat them, the body produces something that breaks them down into something else.” There was total silence. “Do you want to know the name of the thing that breaks down the ugali or rice and makes the ugali something else?” “Yes!” we responded, full of zeal. “Insulin is what breaks down the starch into glucose which moves to the blood and the blood into our various cells of the body. The glucose gives us energy and fuel. That is what makes you strong. But unfortunately, some people do not have that privilege. The body cells fail to respond to that insulin. The glucose therefore builds up in the blood stream.” Everyone was attentive. “Now, what do you think happens to this person?” Dr. Wandeo asked. Kamau was quick to answer, “They do not have energy”. “Good! Clap for him” said the doctor and continued, “indeed, they become weak and extremely tired. Then their blood has high levels of sugar which is not good for the body. As a result of this high sugar level, they take too much water and are constantly thirsty and dehydrated. They tend to urinate so frequently. They lack appetite and you will notice that they become easily angered. These people will have itchy skin and their wounds don’t heal. Thus their wounds may smell. Would you like to be that person who has all these problems?” they whole school roared a big no. “A person who has these symptoms has a disease called diabetes. It affects many people who include young girls or people who have a history of diabetes in their family. We need to love and support them. They are normal and need friends too”. Dr. Wandeo paused and looked around.
“Maria, please come”, he said. There was a gasp here and a gasp there. I was shaking and extremely nervous. They would make fun of me. “Do you know Maria? She has diabetes.” I could see my classmates looking down. They could not face me. “Maria has lived under stigma from her classmates and most of you. Her mother died of diabetes. Maria is normal. Don’t run away from her. Don’t make fun of her. She did not choose to be diabetic but she is normal just like you and I.”
I was touched and felt loved by this doctor. My classmates ran and hugged me and said, “Maria, we are sorry. We were ignorant but we will never treat you badly again. You are one of us”. When we closed I was number three in class and am glad that I was helped and am on medication. I am normal!
The story was used as part of diabetes in children awareness campaign in 2015