10 years on and Sait, a 20 year old trainee teacher still has no idea as to what caused his legs to stop working. At 10 years old he woke up one day to find his legs feeling numb with pins and needles. “They felt like they were on fire” he explains to me “like my blood inside was boiling hot and I couldn’t do anything to cool them down.” He was taken to the hospital when boils started appearing on them; these boils have left scars on his arms and chest. Too sick to move and with his doctors laying guessing games as to what was wrong with him he remained in that hospital for over a year. He spent most of the time alone as his parents were living far away farming.
Finally his doctors decided the best thing to do was to amputate his legs much to his parent’s horror. They were very concerned that if he lost his legs Sait would be ostracized from society – a common running theme of people’s reactions to amputees in The Gambia. Then the doctors made a promise to his parents; the promised they would find him new legs and he would walk again and so they agreed to the operation of amputating both legs off at the hip. This was 10 years ago and patiently every year Sait returns to The Royal Victoria hospital to find out if any suitable legs have come in and every year is turned away.
It was hard for Sait at first, he had missed years of schooling and now he was the only kid at school in a wheelchair. He decided right then at that tender young age that he would never be known as Sait ‘the boy in a wheelchair’ but Sait ‘the boy who is an academic’. Pushing himself at school he worked his way to being in the top 5 of the entire school; not an easy thing to do in a classroom of 60. He graduated 2 year ago and is now training to be a teacher specializing in science and agriculture.
Sait talks in a soft, polite voice. He’s inwardly confident and only raises his voice when he speaks of how angry it makes him to see people with physical disabilities being treated differently. He used to struggle to speak up but now he has no problem complaining to the local government when street curbs are too steep for wheelchair uses or there are no ramps to enter buildings. The other time Sait raises his voice is when he gets excited talking about his number one hobby – playing basketball. We were invited to go down and watch his team train.
They practice three times a week to prepare themselves for international tournaments. In the last month they have been unable to use their court as the cracks that have opened up in it are making it impossible for wheelchair use. They are currently trying to raise the funds to have that fixed but in the meantime the basketball court for able bodied persons is being lent to the team. The game was fast, ferocious and loads of fun. One of them team mates, the only woman on the team, told me how they were qualified for the 2012 London Paralympics but because their wheelchairs are so old they just couldn’t compete against the other developed countries equipment. “It is our dream to have our court fixed and be provided with wheelchairs that are suitable for international competition” she told me “I’ve heard some teams change their wheelchairs almost bi yearly, where are the old ones going?” Good question and one that Legs4Africa would love to know the answer to.
Later on at Sait’s house I ask him how having legs will effect his life. He answers very quietly with a smile on his face “I’ll be able to play with my little cousins more, it will be easier for me to gain the respect of a classroom and…. I can try tennis”