Paul Musyoki, 59, and his wife Jacinta Syombua, 48, have been married for the past 20 years, their visual impairment notwithstanding.
In a story of their life together, they both put on brave faces that leaves one admiring, not pitying them.
They were both born blind with Mr Musyoki attributing his blindness to a measles attack on his pregnant mother who delayed seeking medication.
As for Ms Syombua, her blindness is hereditary with her mother’s family lineage having a history of blindness.
Yet, the couple says that were they to re-live their lives they would take each other as the preferred spouse.
Their story resembles that of Grammy Award-nominated Malian musical couple of Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia.
Amadou lost his vision at the age of 16, while Mariam became blind at age 5 as a consequence of untreated measles. The two are fondly known as “the blind couple from Mali.”
Although their married life has been full of the usual ups and downs, the Musyokis have remained together and share fond memories.
“It may strike you as odd that we live together without seeing each other. But we feel each other and bond so normally. But I would not blame you. I would also feel confused to imagine that we were to regain our eyesight and start seeing each other face to face,” says Ms Syombua.
Trouble is, the two are jobless and hustle everyday to eke a living for their four daughters aged between 28 and 10 years. Two of their daughters are totally blind with the others partially blind.
LIFE OF FAITH
Regardless, they have managed to educate their daughters, three of whom are in secondary school and the youngest one in class five.
“Ours is a life of relying on God’s unfailing grace where we seek commitment to succeed like other families not drawn back by disability. We aspire to live a normal life and we have succeeded. We live a day at time, knowing tomorrow might bring good tidings to us. It is a life of faith and hope,” says Mr Musyoki.
The fifth born and only blind child born to nomad parents in 1957, Mr Musyoki grew up knowing no permanent abode.
“Some Europeans who in 1972 visited our native Kilimambogo village in Kiambu County took me away from the care of my parents and enrolled me Thika School for the blind,” says Mr Musyoki who has never reunited with his family.
“My father had no land and kept moving us from one place to another in search of our upkeep. Today, I don’t know of a place I can lay claim to a heritage,” he says.
Having had gone through his primary school studies up to class seven, by 1991 he had acquired weaving skills through a sponsored programme for the disabled.
“But we were under the care of European donors who would only give us food and accommodation despite the fact that we made baskets which they sold,” he says.
With a yearn to live an independent life devoid of such oppression, he struck out to start his life in Kiandutu slums situated just a kilometer, South of Thika Town.
“I moved out of the donor care in 1995 with no plan of my own. What I knew was that I had to seek a way of reconstructing my life, start a family and become a responsible family head,” he says.
It was while in the slum where he had rented a single room that he met Ms Syombua and who was to become his wife.
SUBJECTED TO STIGMA
Born blind, Ms Syombua, to a single mother in Mwala village of Machakos County, found herself in Thika School for the Blind where she pursued her basic education up to class seven.
She would later enroll at a church-funded secondary school for the disabled. The same church funded her for a course in Nairobi where in 1991 she graduated as a telephone operator.
But getting a job remained a nightmare. She was subjected to stigma that made potential employers look down on her.
“But a well-wisher secured a casual job for me in Thika at the 12th battalion of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF). I would report to work, engage officers in chitchats and leave for home. The important thing is that I was getting paid every end month,” she said.
After a year, her contract expired and she found herself in Kiandutu slums where she rented a house for a monthly rent of Sh200.
It was while in this slum that she met Mr Musyoki who was to become her husband and the father to her four children.
“She was blind too and we met through a forum that brought together the disabled in the slum. I could not see her but her articulation of issues in the meeting and her liveliness painted a picture in my mind of a beautiful and gracious woman,” Mr Musyoki reminisces.
On her part, Syombua says she was moved by the “sweet voice I heard from him as he made his contribution in the forum. He kept our meetings lively and at times entertained us with Kamba dialect songs as we waited for our guests.”
Later, she recalls, Mr Musyoki would invite her into his house and she found herself willing to be there.
“I only came to realize that we were living as husband and wife four months into our dating when I conceived,” she says.
Mr Musyoki says he was elated to hear that despite being blind, he could have a baby of his own. It was the turning point in the couples’ lives as they came to terms with the reality.
“That thought made me aware that I could no longer afford to live a life of depending on random donors to put food on our table. I knew that an expanded family meant more bills. I was determined to be the head of the family and play my role effectively,” he says.
With no employment prospects and with no ability to start a business, he started begging on the streets so as to meet the expanded responsibilities of feeding a pregnant wife.
“I was very firm to my wife never at any given moment did she accompany me to the streets. It was for me to earn and return home with money to keep us going,” he says.
They say that their daily budget has been rising steadily since 1995 when they met. back then their single room house cost them Sh150 every month, now that rent has risen to Sh1,000.
“It here where I live with my four daughters. The only reprieve is that they are all in boarding schools and their school fees are catered for by the government,” he says.
When the daughters are away, Mr Musyoki says Sh200 a day is enough to cater for their daily needs but when their daughters are at home, the daily budget shoots up to Sh500.
But Mr Musyoki remains determined to play his role as the breadwinner for his family.
“As long as I’m alive, neither my wife nor daughters will never show up on the road to beg. It is for me to earn a living for them and I intend to play that role until I die, or until God visits our lives with blessings,” he says.
But before that happens, they both say, they will continue living their life, determined to show the world that their visually impairment is not a handicap to them.