This week I met a man who has leukemia, cancer of the blood. He has lost everything. His life is no longer the same. As he narrates his story, his wife, a soft spoken middle aged woman takes a seat next him and not long into the conversation we understand why.
As he introduces himself, though the interview is about him, every now and then he confirms the accuracy of his information with his wife. He even asks her to tell us his age. She does so as if it’s not the first time she has been asked to. All through our conversation, he refers to himself as the guest in his own home affirming that it belongs to his wife. She blushes.
He talks about her with a lot of respect and she looks at him in awe. It’s not until he starts talking about how close he came to dying that she loses her composure and tears well up in her eyes. He continues to narrate how his wife at one point became the bread winner and how she has been his support. Without her, he says, he does not know what he would have done.
He talks about how his medical bill is so high that he stopped thinking about it. He lives for today. Being healthy and alive today is all that matters to him. Not yesterday’s pain or tomorrows uncertainty. He remembers jokingly, how even doctors had lost hope in his recovery and how he had already accepted his fate. Now he can laugh about it he says. The side effects of the cancer medicine he is on is another monster to him. He says its a state he wouldn’t want us to see. He is genuine. No doubt. Few men would allow themselves to be this vulnerable to the rest of the world.
This is just but one of the many stories that this country is rich with. Heroes who walk among us bearing ordinary titles like wives, husbands, siblings, doctors, teachers and colleagues. You will never know the sacrifices these people have had to make to be who they are today. They carry such heavy loads daily yet they never miss an opportunity to take on another. To stop and give you a hand, to give generously even when they don’t have enough. These are true heroes, Mashujaa.
If you are one of these unsung heroes, today even though the world continues to revolve oblivious of your many sacrifices, we honor and celebrate you. To you who is holding on against all odds, believing and giving tirelessly, to you who cannot remember the last day you slept soundly for a night, to you who has denied themselves the “pleasures” of this life that you may allow someone else to enjoy instead, you are a Shujaa.
Your sacrifice may seem insignificant in comparison to what others are doing but it’s still a sacrifice nonetheless and for that we celebrate you. We recognize what it has cost you to be where you are. We honor your brave choice not to take a short cut, not to give in. Many looked the other way, turning a blind eye to the same need you are standing up for. Others walked away after trying for a while without success. Most of us saw it as someone else’s responsibility and not ours. We prayed that God would send someone to help and went our way feeling good about ourselves and our sensitivity to other people’s needs. But not you. You stood up. You held on. You fought on. And with no end in sight, you are still here. You are a Shujaa.
We apologize for taking you for granted, for being insensitive enough to walk away and call you a fool who doesn’t know which battle to fight. How can we, cowards, who ran away from different needs around us have the guts to tell you what you can and cannot stand up for? You are true a hero. Though unsung, you are a Shujaa.
Whether you are that doctor that gives exceptional treatment to a patient who will never afford to pay for the services but you still value him/her as a human being first or a teacher who goes the extra mile so that your students can have a better life than you did, you are a Shujaa. Whether you are a parent or a sibling to a family member dealing with a terminal condition and against all odds you refuse to lose hope and do the best you can to make their lives less painful and more “normal” at whatever cost, you my friend, are a Shujaa. For fighting to save our land and our animals, for standing up against pollution and deforestation because generations after us will need a home, you are a hero.
I cannot mention all the areas that these Shujaas influence but we all can chose to affirm the Shujaas in our lives and around us. Bosses like mine who believe in me and entrust me with responsibilities that allow me to grow, colleagues that make my working environment safe enough for me to be the best I can be, friends who stand with me in even in my failures, family that is the wind beneath my wings, mentors and confidants who refuse to let me give up and most of all Kenyans with whom I share an identity, a purpose, a home – you are Shujaas.
I celebrate you and would gladly share my towel with you (pun intended).