Beyond Barriers

I grew up in the 1950s where polio was considered one of the most feared and dreaded diseases afflicting mostly young children. I have seen how it has afflicted my friends and relatives, causing paralysis, abnormalities & deformities in its ugliest forms, sometimes death. Yet polio victims are capable of living a fulfilled and independent life despite the stigma attached to it.
My cousin sister, Lim Siew Tho is the eldest of nine siblings. She lives with her parents and grandparents in a wooden attap-thatched roof house, with mud-caked floor in the countryside. They are farmers. I grew up with them. She is a polio victim from young. She has atrophied on both her legs. They are deformed from the knees down. Some complications set in which nearly took her life but she survived. People used to stare at her and neighbours’ kids called her ‘alien’ because of her ugly feet. So she rarely venture outdoor. But there is nothing ugly about her.
She is their first child. Seeing her on her knees and hands crawling like a baby, growing but never able to walk normally again, clearly there was anxiety in the family.They were worried for her future. “Is she going to be dependent on us all her life? What will happen when we passed away?” They asked around, trying to find some sort of help for her. Then one day, some relatives from Singapore informed them that doctors there will be able to fit her with walking aids. There was hope and they felt a heavy load rolled off their shoulders but it was going to be costly. So they decided to borrow money to send her. But that night, she cried, so did everyone. She chose to stay instead.
Their fears were unfounded. Watching her overcome her disabilities and trying to cope I have great admiration for her gutsy, independent spirit.
She uses the four wooden walls of the house, the clothes’ lines, the wire fencing or any sticks she can find to support herself as she manoeuvres inside & around the house doing household chores. Every morning, she is up before the rooster crows. She sits on the wet flooring, scrubbing buckets and buckets of clothes over the wooden grooved washboards. On her bended knees, she then drags the pails of clothes to hang on the clothes’ line and along the fencing. Then she will heat up the overnight food over the huge clay-mud firewood stove for her parents and grandparents to take to the farm. Occasionally she will let us help when we tell her it is faster but often she will chase us away. When her siblings go to school, she will babysit the younger ones. She feeds & rocks them to sleep on the sarong cradle. She has a way with babies and the young. Everyone just feels so comfortable with her.
She keeps the mud-caked house spick and span. Chicken and ducks wander in and out the house like they own the place, leaving behind their “poo, poo”. She scoops up every one of them.
Her day never fails with a visit to the chicken coop to pick eggs. She drags her twisted feet to the coop, with one hand dangling the basket to collect the eggs. Mud and dirt has become part of her life but she never once complain about them.
She is also very enterprising. When she is free, she sits at the veranda, busy making brooms (sapu lidi) from mid-dribs of dried coconut leaves. She also makes coconut oil from the coconuts collected from the farm. Sitting over a wooden stool attached with a metal scraper, she manually scraps the white coconut flesh and cooks until the oil is extracted. She fills them up into 5 kg tins and sells them to the nearby market. When things are too heavy for her, that’s the only time she calls out to us for help. She helps to rear fowls like chicks, ducks and geese in the backyard of the house. These fowls come in handy during festivals or for offerings to the gods. While grandpa is entrusted to do marketing early in the morning, she does all the cooking.
There were games we played together when we were young. I remembered how we shrieked and screamed as she pretended to be the evil witch, chasing us with her “magical broom”. We tied her eyes and counted 1…2….3…….as we run helter-skelter playing hide-n-seek. When she was tired of crawling, she used her butt to move. Sometimes she watched from the sidelines, cheering and encouraging us. Occasionally, I saw her flicking through our school books. I tried to teach her to read and write but after a few attempts she mumbled, “so much to learn, it’s for crazy people”. I used to wander why she was always looking & flicking through calendars. And finally, she surprised us by writing & counting numbers she learned from calendars.
We may fret over which clothes to put on, what food to eat, where to holiday or what to invest, she doesn’t. The only time she puts on nice clothes and is out of the house is riding pillion on those big rickety bicycles to watch the open-air opera shows during the festivals of the Deities. The other enjoyment she has is going over to the neighbours for a chat or learns a new dish.
To her, it is centred around the house and her loved ones. If we drop by today to visit, she is still the same today as she was then. If there is anything she can give you, she would. Her generosity and great attitude towards life make us eat humble pie! If there’s one person who deserves a medal or a pat on the back, that would be her! She has gone beyond the barriers.

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About moviemania

Mission work in Kuching, Sarawak & Climbed Bako National Park, seen the largest proboscis Climbed the Great Wall of China & serenaded by Ku Nian along Yangtze River Sailed the River Nile Walked in the footsteps of Jesus, crossed River Jordan into Israel, the Holy Lands Mission work in Talugtug, Philippines Mission work in Toowoomba, Queensland Mission work in Kalaymyo, Myanmar
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One Response to Beyond Barriers

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