Thursday, 12 November 2015

Gilbert Agyare has a story: Part II

"If I had seen it, I would have dodged"


[All photos were taken by Kennedy Danso, a friend and course mate also in Legon Hall, who is a budding photographer]

I COULD NOT meet Gilbert until four days after I returned from Nairobi. A couple of mid-semester tests soon after my arrival kept me busy, and indeed I would have allowed my busy schedule to unleash the bane procrastination unto my plans of meeting him had it not been for Andre.

Andre had been texting me endlessly – even when I was in Nairobi – that he felt we should visit and get to know Gilbert. He told me that he similarly had a feeling about him and that, like me, he yearned to know more about him.

We showed up in front of Gilbert’s room one Thursday afternoon, knocked, and got a vociferous order from behind the door to ‘come in please.’ When we walked in, we found him standing in front of his bed, dressed up, a backpack strapped to his back.

He told us that he was leaving for Mankessim, a town in the Central Region – where he stays with his family. He was going away for the weekend, but would be back on Sunday. We had a brief conversation, and I remember him chortling profusely when Andre asked if he used a phone. “I even use a laptop!” he joked. “Don’t worry, there are a lot of misconceptions about blind people and so its natural for you guys to wonder when it comes to these things,” he added, and smiled.

We walked him to the street just behind Legon Hall, where we found a taxi that was headed out to a bus-stop at Okponglo - just outside of campus. From Okponglo, he’d need a troski (mini bus/van) that would take him to Kwame Nkrumah Circle, a loud, crowded bastion of business activity close to Central Accra, which is also known for being a hub of bus terminals. From Circle, he would board a bus that would drive him for about an hour and a half to Mankessim. We looked at the route and worried about him doing it all alone, but he told us not to worry, assuring us that’d he’d been on his own on such travels many times and that he would be fine.

As the taxi drove off, we watched in awe and wondered how such a young blind person could feel so at ease, so brave, doing things that even sighted people consider a chore.


GILBERT HAD BEEN resting on his bed, lying on his back. It was a Monday. The room was dark, but his laptop – which was placed beside him – was still on, and so it offered some illumination. Andre and I announced our presence and it was clear he was pleased to encounter us again. He sat up, on the edge of his bed, ready to converse.

We had gone to visit him with the hope of having a chat. We hoped to cure our curiosity, to find out more about him. My specific intention had been to first have a preliminary chat to acquaint myself properly with him and his situation, then to schedule an interview with him for a later date – by which time I figured I would have fixed my faulty voice recorder.

But it didn’t go according to plan. Andre’s understandable inquisitiveness led him to ask Gilbert a series of questions, from how he manages to use a phone and a laptop, through to how he manages to read braille. Then, probably carried away by Gilbert’s fascinating answers, as well as encouraged by his refreshing openness, Andre pushed the boundaries and asked the question. The question we had both thought was sensitive and so would come up in an interaction at a later date.

How did you become blind? That question.

After the words left his mouth, Andre impulsively followed them up with an apology. “I hope I’m not being too intrusive and please its okay if you don’t want to talk about it.”

Gilbert laughed. “Oh it’s okay, don’t worry,” he assured. “I have no problems talking about my past…

“I have not always been blind, I…”

Instinctively, I pulled out my phone in the spur of the moment and cut in. For some reason, I felt a sudden urge to record him. I asked. Fortunately, he had no issues. “Oh sure, why not?” he said, courteously inviting me to conduct an impromptu interview. I had no plan, no blueprint of questions, no idea of how to go about it – but I did it anyway. Deep down, I harboured a lingering hope that the spontaneity would be a blessing.

In hindsight, it turned out to be. Because what followed was quite intense.

He opened up, in a no holds barred manner, about the difficult subject, beginning a narration that took Andre and I on an engrossing excursion back to that day, that moment, when his life was changed forever.


FOR THE FIRST 10 years of his life, Gilbert could see. He once had the perceived might of sight. He could see the clear blue sky, the birds that chirp and fly. He could see a ball hurtling towards his foot on a dusty pitch, or an airplane humming as it scythed through the clouds above.

He had eyes. Two eyes, all in perfect condition. But they wouldn’t last.  He lost them. Studies have shown that the leading causes of blindness in Ghana are cataract, trachoma and glaucoma – all ruthless diseases that steal sight with deceptive patience. But Gilbert lost his sight to none of these.

He lost his eyes to a stone. A gut-wrenching exception.

The roller-coaster that is life can take such sharp turns, such sudden steep descents, at times when we least expect. The scary bit is that we never know. That’s the thing. We are all, almost always, at the mercy of potential disaster because no one ever knows what will happen in the next moment.

If Gilbert had known, he would have never turned when he heard his name that fateful day. But he had no say. The gods of fate had met and decided to cruelly bang the gavel of misfortune on his destiny. There was very little he could do. And so he turned, innocently, oblivious of the misfortune that was to strike.

Statistics say that 80% of blindness in Ghana could have been avoided. This suggests that the majority of cases are characterized by an element of prior knowledge, of prior control, of prior influence, of prior power to effect change. But, as far as he was concerned, at least, Gilbert had none of these. None.

It was too late. The stone flew into his face and invaded the socket of his right eye with a velocity that was as vicious as its ferocity. His eyeball could not withstand the crush. It raptured. He let out a loud cry, but what had happened was irreversible.

That was it. A split second. A decisive moment of impact. A tragedy in a flash.


THE BIBLICAL TALE of David and Goliath, for those who have heard it, is considered to be a feel-good story; one that inspires hope, one that fuels the courage to face daunting tests, one that ignites the will to triumph against the odds.

But for Gilbert, it is a story that he probably wishes never existed. That story, for him, is one that brings fright. Because that epic fight contributed to him losing his sight.

In 2002, Gilbert lived in Sunyani in the Brong Ahafo Region, a few miles north of Kumasi. He lived in a neighbourhood quarters built for officials of the Sunyani division of the Ghana National Fire Service. His father was a fireman who had settled there with his family; a wife and five kids, 10-year-old Gilbert inclusive.

In that same neighbourhood lived a boy named Amos. Amos was Gilbert’s coeval. His friend. They were stereotypical childhood buddies; they played together, fought each other, teased each other, loved each other, and hated each other at times. But they were friends, above all things, after all was said and done.

This friendship, though, would become eternally bruised on the day Amos came back from church and raved about a new story he’d heard: the story of David and Goliath.

A hive of neighbourhood kids encircled Amos that afternoon and buzzed in anticipation of his narration. He had the honey – the story they wanted to hear. He had heard the pastor at church preach about the story of David and Goliath – and the famed fable had aroused his wildest imagination and stirred up an urge of adventure. He told the kids about how the Pastor even went out of his way to perform a live demonstration of that occasion; of how David slinged the stone that sank into the forehead of the giant and floored him face down. Apparently, the pastor had done it flawlessly, with a sense of athleticism that fetched a loud roar of approval from the excited congregation.

Amos had been fascinated by that show and he wanted in on the fun. He wanted to be sure if he had grasped the process. He wanted to pull off a remake.

He was prepared, too. He already had a sling and a stone. Impatiently, he made away from the huddle of kids and found a free area where he could properly position himself to throw his body’s weight behind his arm. Then, he swung his sling and sent the stone hurling with foul force.


MEANWHILE, GILBERT WAS standing with a friend, heartily conversing, just a few blocks away. He had not been a part of the kids that Amos had hypnotized with his church drama story. That interaction had happened behind him, out of his ear shot, out of his sight. 

It was all none of his business.

But it would be soon.

“Gilbert!” one of the children called out, presumably to warn him to get out of the way of Amos’ experiment. The other children were scattering as the stone tore through the afternoon air. But Gilbert had not known. “I was not even looking in their direction,” he recounted. “My back was turned to them.”

He had not known, too, that that stone in flight was destined to change his life. “If I had seen it, I would have dodged,” he said.

But he did not see it. He had thought it was merely someone calling him. And so he turned. And it happened. 


Link to PART III

Link to PART IV:

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