April 15th 2012
I’ve been having some mild numbing pain in one arm that got me very scared. I feared a paralysed arm, having seen many instances of paralysis lately. Now I’ve got over it, though, after getting palliative advice from a wise sort. On reflection, it amuses me. Why is advanced age giving me the willies?
I remember the days when nothing on earth could shake me. One year I was all jittery as a toddler and then the following year I transformed into a hard nut that could brush off any scare. Life as a herds-boy was responsible for that miraculous transformation.
It was towards the end of 1960, after a year of exile in Bufumbira, south-western Uganda. For constantly being teased by hostile herds-boys and attacked by all sorts of wild animals, I’d grasped the art of self-defence. With my ‘umuzo’ stick, I could defend myself against the hardest boys and the most ferocious animals. Bullies or carnivorous animals, I could lick them all.
Interestingly, though, when time came that my hardness was most severely tested, it was not in Bufumbira. It was back in Rwanda……..
Funny government of the time, it allowed us back in our country to participate in a referendum that would decide whether Rwanda should remain a kingdom or turn into a republic. We were citizens, yes, but we could be thrown out of the country and back at will by a government whose core function was supposed to be the protection of all its citizens!
Anyway, in the end we were said to have lost in that 25th September 1961 referendum, even if no one asked which we’d opted for – and as if we young scoundrels could ‘opt’, anyway! It was just decided that we were ‘ethnic’ monarchists and, as losers, we were thrown back into exile.
But for at least that year we’d been back in our country, accommodated by our neighbours, since our homes had been destroyed. Our neighbours were friendly, which was why ‘outsiders’ (those from distant ridges) had had to be ferried from far to come to burn houses and kill………
So, during that year, one time I was picking my way through the ruins of our house when I felt a sting on my right foot and saw rustling grass. I knew it – a snake! Now, you don’t indulge in shouting for help when a snake bites you, no. You act. And so I quickly ran to a clearing and sat on a rock, lifted my foot and started to fiercely suck on the bite, repeatedly spitting out the venom. There are snakes that have no venom, of course, but I was not going to take chances. A little delay and, if it was venomous, you’d be history.
When I was confident that I’d sucked out most of the venom, I went for revenge. With my stick, I went hitting all the grass in the direction the snake had taken until I saw it slithering through the grass. By its high speed, I could tell that it was ‘insana’ (a rattlesnake), a snake that has strong venom.
Quickly, I pushed the stick under where I thought its body was, got it and tossed it high up, hoping to throw it far away from me so that I could kill it at a safer distance.
Unfortunately, on looking up, I saw it sail up momentarily and then it plunged downward headlong, directly towards my head. I quickly skipped to the left and aimed at its head with my stick and hit. When it fell on the ground, it was dead.
That’s when I decided to go on to the healer of the village, an old lady who was reputed to have the power to cure any ailment and who could get rid of all the venom. She treated me and the little swelling that’d started to develop around the bitten skin slowly returned to normal and the following day I was good and healed.
But the next time my toughness was tested, only a few days after the snake incident, I must confess I thought I was done for.
I was pushing the rim (wheel) of a bicycle with my stick – a game that should strike a chord with any African boy – when the stick disengaged with the rim and got stuck in the ground, throwing me forward. As I sought to soften my fall with both my hands, I let go of the stick and stretched out my hands as I fell. Dazed, I lay down for a while but then felt warm liquid on my legs. Alarmed, I sat up and, lifting my shorts, I tried to find out what the liquid was and its source.
I suppressed a scream – it was blood! I’d not felt anything but, on examining further, I saw that the sharp edge of my stick had ripped the skin of one of my b—s (yes, the skin only, sadistic you!). This time I had to be rushed to Mutorere Hospital, in Uganda, where the ripped part had to be stitched. Even then, after only a few days I was as good as new.
From then on, I called myself ‘Never-Die’! And now to be so fiddle-footed?