Against All Odds
Looking at her and listening to her music, her physique and voice belie her condition and nothing but a wheelchair by her bedside betrays her state.
She is a talented gospel music composer and singer, but a streak of misfortunes has kept her off the active arena of the music industry.
It began with a fish-bone that stuck in her throat as she was having a meal at a Nairobi City hotel in 2005, this led to an operation that snatched her voice for seven months, then followed a car accident that caused her spinal injuries in 2006 confining her to bed since then to date.
The predicament brought her music career to an abrupt halt subjecting her to years of pain, misery and confusion.Ann Muthoni Kariuki’s story is one that first provokes a sense of despair and sorrow but also inspires courage, strength, hope and faith as she narrates how she has bravely fought a battle against all odds. Not even loss of voice and four months of memory lapse could stop her from singing.
The soft-spoken, light-skinned lady who lives at Kikuyu Township discovered her music talent at a tender age and nurtured it to a point where she started recording great gospel songs. Her latest album is Gikombe Kia Maithori (A cup of tears). The song Gikombe (cup) is ranked among the top ten gospel songs in Kenya.
By the time she was at Masinga girls’ high school, she had written up to 100 songs, she was introduced to gospel music producers at the National broadcaster KBC in 1995 where she started singing in the then famous gospel music shows ‘Joy-Bringers and Sing and Shine.’
As is the case with many budding musicians, her first album did not perform well in 1995 but she could not lose hope. “Learning through mistakes I recorded a second cassette and a third album Nimurikiirwo (lightened-up) in 2001 that picked well.” Says Muthoni.
In 2004 she recorded a Kiswahili album Vita Tutashinda (We shall win the battle) with eleven songs. It was after that album that her music career suffered a major blow.
“In 2005, accompanied by a church elder, a pastor and a lady friend, we entered into a hotel in Nairobi on a Thursday during lunch time and I ordered chapatti and fish.” She explains.
Went on Muthoni “ after the third bite, a food particle stuck in my throat, I did not know what it was, it caused a lot of discomfort in my throat, I was tensed and alarmed as I tried to drink water, take a lump of food to push the particle down but nothing worked.”
She got more worried when she saw blood-stained saliva come out; though they had lunch together, her colleagues did not give it much concern, they deserted her afterwards. Her condition worsened, she could not swallow anything, not even liquids.
“It all came out with bloodstains” she adds. She went from one chemist to another but got no help.
She called her friend who advised her to go to hospital immediately and she was taken by relatives to Masaba hospital. Doctors located the position of the fish-bone through x-ray but referred her to Kenyatta National Hospital.
“Doctors at KNH delayed to attend to me, while unconscious, I was taken to Nairobi hospital but the doctors could not manage to operate on me, I was taken to M.P Shah Hospital where an operation that took four and a half hours was done.” Says Muthoni.
“Doctors had cautioned us that chances of losing my voice forever were high, but I clung to my faith, that I could speak and sing again” she asserts.
Singing in Silence
She lost her voice for seven months after the operation but continued composing and writing songs in silence. She wrote over 200 songs in silence and after seven months little whispers started coming up.
It was in 2006 while recuperating from the operation and trauma; that she got in a car accident along Thika Road and sustained debilitating spinal injuries that confined her to bed and wheelchair. “This somehow spelled doom to my life and career, I almost gave up life but somehow I got inner strength to move on; I lost my memory for four months, I couldn’t remember my songs or how to sing or write them” she explains. “It was however a great joy that after 4 months I opened my book and started regaining my memory and singing again; slowly by slowly.” She adds.
Doctors explained that her lower back got injured and was the source of her incapacity. “They say I had disc-prolapse and section of joints got injured causing drying of joint-fluid causing problems in movement.” She says.
She states that doctors have tried to ameliorate intense pain on her spine since 2006 to date but it has been frustrating for them due to failure of different drugs.
“Family and friends are considering plans to seek specialized treatment abroad,” she says.
She survives on drugs and in a day she takes up to 25 tablets among other liquid medicines.
She has written over 500 songs so far, and she says “I have crazy faith and hope that I will drink from this ‘cup of tears’ like Jesus Christ did and win, look up there; I have new shoes, clothes and suitcase ready to walk out of this bed and spread the gospel through music.” She says pointing at the wardrobe.
Her gratitude goes to relatives and friends who have stood by her, carrying and turning her in the bed of sickness. Losing hope is out of question for her; she says she will keep on fighting, believing that soon she will walk again.
Peter Kahare is a freelance journalist based in Nakuru County of Rift Valley province in Kenya, East Africa. He shares the untold stories from this part of the world.