By Richard Chirombo:
If Joseph Hussein had his way, he would have stayed close to his son all-day long on November 25 2018.
But the father of four had his four children’s and wife’s food needs in mind and, so, had to rush to the maize field before the sun cast its first rays on Matale 1 Village in the area of Traditional Authority Phambala in Ntcheu District.
“The day was Sunday, November 25 2018. I woke up at dawn, told my children to find me at the maize field at sunset once they had made sure that, being the rainy season, our goats were tied to trees and secured. I did not want to get reports that some of my domesticated animals had savored someone’s maize crop.
“Before I set out for the maize field, I made sure that there was enough food for the children at home. I also instructed them to make sure that they find me at our maize field, located some two kilometres away, before 7am to help with farm-work,” he said Monday.
Little did he know that that would be the last day he would carry out farm work normally; let alone the last day he would see one of his sons, Willesi, in full frame— a bustling boy with strong feet, hands, 10 fingers an undefaced mouth and nose and a future that could only be bright.
This is so because, at around 8am— which is roughly four hours after he had left sweet home for the maize field— he got a chilling message: his son had been attacked by what experts identified as a rapid hyena.
“I was surprised. I did not know how, after people have felled trees and reduced forests to ‘open air’, a hyena could emerge from nowhere to attack my son. I still shake my head.
“When I got to the house, I observed that my son had been badly injured. No wonder, people, including our member of Parliament, suggested that we proceed to Balaka District Hospital (BDH), and not Ntcheu District Hospital, to seek medical attention for my beloved son,” he said.
At BDH, medical personnel realised that the situation was dire and quickly referred Hussein’s son to Mercy James Centre at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, where they have been since that day.
They have not even had time to go back home in Ntcheu to check on the maize crop.
What has prompted all this is the extent of the injuries the son sustained in the attack. The hyena mauled his face, so that, even for the parents, it became a tall order to recognise the face of a son only they knew better.
More so because the hyena ate one eye, leaving a child whose future was as bright as his twinkling eyes, with one eye.
In total, the hyena left three people injured.
Ntcheu Police Station spokesperson, Hastings Chigalu, said at the time that one of the victims— a 33-year-old man from Kasisi, Sub Traditional Authority Tsikulamowa in the district— was attacked while in his maize field.
“The other two victims— teen boys aged 11 and nine years from Matale 1, Traditional Authority Phambala— were later attacked within the community by the same wild animal after it escaped from the first scene.
”Eleven-year-old Willesi Hussein has been left with both palms chopped and is admitted to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, where he is getting medical treatment.
“At the moment, 33-year-old Chisomo Thembakako and nine-year-old Kelvin Epic are admitted to Balaka District Hospital as they were also left with serious injuries,” he said on November 26 2018.
Three days later, Ministry of Health and veterinary officials announced that the three victims had tested positive to rabies.
Ntcheu District Health Officer, Mike Chisema, further said those affected were receiving anti-rabies vaccine.
“After veterinary officials diagnosed the hyena with rabies, they conducted tests on the three victims and found that, indeed, they have contracted the disease,” Chisema said.
He added that over 20 people who had been in contact with the victims had also been treated for rabies.
If well-wishers treat the family well, maybe an artificial eye will do on Willesi, although that, too, will be as lifeless as the rapid hyena that was gunned down.
“The hyena also ate all his fingers except two. Only the left hand remains with the two fingers in question, a tall-order for a right-handed man because he will have to learn to use the two fingers the way a stranger approaches new territory. I can see that life will no longer be the same,” Hussein, who works as a guard to sustain his family while in Blantyre, said.
His own voice sounds heavy; apparently weighed down by the experience of that Sunday.
“You see, I am a worried man. To begin with, after what we went through, I cannot afford to meet the education needs of the child. I need a hand.
“What makes me sad is the possibility of discrimination. I fear that, once he goes back to school, fellow learners may mock him. He may be the only one out. You know children. That child needs special education, which is expensive and often neglected in the country. All these things mean well-wishers have to come in. I just want my child to have a bright future,” Hussein said.
As a father, he has been trying his best to lead by example. It is a great sacrifice he is paying because he works as a guard during the day and goes to Mercy James Centre at night to look after the child.
“When I have been put on the night shift, I and my wife look after the child during the day. Thereafter, I leave her at the centre and go to work-station. We do all this because we want the best for our son. Maybe he will know that we love him a lot.
“We only pray that well-wishers can help us provide other things our son needs. People can get us on 0991858681. I think, now that we are in this situation, we can join hands to make my son’s life bearable,” he said.
The aim, surely, is to ensure that ‘Peter’ leads a normal life, unburdened by the experience of November 25 2018.
“Actually, I pray that, when he gets out of hospital and, God forbid, hear a hyena howl, he should not be filled with regrets. It is not his fault; maybe it was written, long before he was born, that his life would pan out this way. But we can make the memories less painful. We, as a nation, can be there for him,” he said.
He spoke like a man, although it was clear, gauging by his facial expressions, that he was disturbed by the extent of the problem, and unsure of what the future holds.
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