Why Growing Old Is Admirable No More

The word ‘old’ used to be synonymous with the words: respect, wisdom, intelligence, experience, seniority, blessings, leadership. Old persons (“the elderly”) were seen as a source of inspiration and were responsible for nurturing future generations based on their long life experiences with the notion “Experience is the best teacher” being widely accepted.

My father once told me how his grandfather handed over a special gift of his to his son (my grandfather); a gift that he had attained through several years of learning and practice. He took his son to a place with many trees and shrubs and pointed at them. He asked, “Do you see all those cattle and property all over this place?”. There was obviously no wealth visible among this shrubs and bushes. My great-grandfather was a medicine man just like many other persons at the time who had discovered medicinal properties of the elements of nature, the special gift that God had given to them. To him (the great grand), these were the ‘cattle’ and property that he was passing on to his son, my grandfather. Through practicing traditional medicine, he was able to raise his family and educate some of his children.

The African greats like Nelson Mandela (RIP), Desmond Tutu, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Mzee Arap Moi of Kenya, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Tata Awayo of Uganda among others, have continued to inspire the current and the future generations in ways that I cannot explain due to the magnitude of its effect.

By now, I guess you are asking yourself why you have not heard about the so called great Tata Awayo of Uganda. Awayo is a deaf neighbor of mine in the Town of Soroti, Eastern Uganda. She is about 75 years old and lives alone in a grass thatched mud and wattle house. Due to the challenges in Uganda’s education system, Awayo did not learn sign language from any special needs training centre .

With a smile on her face, ‘Amojong’ Awayo waves me good bye almost every morning as I go to work and welcomes be back from the long day. Awayo has been neglected by her own children and family members who fear to shoulder the burden of taking care of their now old and needy family member. Because the world has turned its back on her, she has to wake up very early in the mornings to show her love to everyone passing around (especially me) as she begs for a daily meal to keep her precious life going, support for medical care to mitigate the now chronic illnesses that she has, emergency roofing of her hut that leaks now and then, love and companionship when she is lonely and needs to be heard, the list goes on and on.

On the day the Hybrid Solar Eclipse caught the attention of almost every individual in Awayos’ vicinity, she was left wondering why the sun was not shining as it was supposed to. I learned this through the crude sign language interactions that I held with her. I tried to explain to her that the moon was passing below the sun and covering its rays from reaching earth; it was a hard one to explain but I made my point by showing her the eclipse using a film strip. Awayo had a hearty laugh and patted me on the back as she was expressing her deep appreciation of my intervention to address the ‘mystery’.

Awayo and several other older persons are being abandoned by us, the able and productive group in society. I’ve learned that even in developed countries the elderly are treated like animals and dumped in care centres. I could never think to place my mother, father, or any of my close relatives to a care centre. To make it worse, some relatives never bother to check on them and give them the love and company that every human being inherently deserves. I recently read an article about robots being developed to care for the elderly. This killed me internally and made me wonder where the human race is heading.

As I blog about this, I am shedding invisible tears because of the old men and women that I have seen rotting away with jiggers and other treatable illnesses in my own home country, Uganda.

An Old Man whose foot was riddled with jiggers

They are given names like “the father of jiggers” or “a cursed old man or woman”.  The health service providers have also focused their attention on mothers and children leaving the elderly to be “hosts” to several diseases as they die and disappear slowly from the face of the earth.

Who will mentor us? Who will bridge the past, present, and future for the good of the current and next generation? Who will inspire us with those lovely old age stories and remind us of the struggle that our forefathers went through to achieve what we are enjoying today?

President Obama, while eulogizing Tata Madiba (Nelson Mandela), said that we will never see a person like Mandela again. It’s true that Madiba has passed on with all his brilliance and courage, but we still have a role to play to emulate his works, to fight for justice for all, to respect and adore humanity and to preserve the unique brains that we have among our elderly persons. Let’s give ourselves a reason to live long and inspire the world without fear that our very own will abandon us in time to come.