Growing old in Oyam, Uganda: Mary Joyce’s story

By Williams Moi

In Apedi Adek village, in Oyam district, northern Uganda a centenarian great grandmother  lives on.

Mary Joyce Ayoo is approximately 111-years-old, beating the Queen’s age I suppose. Her lifestyle has beaten many diseases, making the people of northern Uganda tongue- tied. She does not fall sick, whereas these days due to HIV and diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis it is difficult for one to reach such an age.

Life expectancy in Uganda nowadays stands at 45 but it is not even heard of that she has been taken ill to any clinic or operated on in a hospital, sending the world to wonder at the lifestyle of a Ugandan centenarian mother.

What worries her is how to afford her daily meal, which our father in heaven taught us to eat in order to live a longer life than this. But equally worrying is the lifestyle of older persons, women and vulnerable children following inadequate humanitarian assistance to the people of northern Uganda. This follows the devastating war, which lasted more than 23 years and caused hunger and disease, plus a lack of socioeconomic development and infrastructure in the country, which still calls for the world’s attention.

A few people in that area know about Mary Joyce but many do not and so do not give her any assistance. She suffers hunger greatly. Although her relatives give her meager assistance, more is required otherwise she will die sooner or later. In Lango sub region where she lives many wish her only death saying that older persons are useless in life.

Her son Joel says to me: “Thank God Mr. KC – God helps his people to live longer, such as my mother you see sitting here. She stays hungry most of the time until when, after doing all my workload including garden work, I return home and gives her a meal once for the day.” There is no special attention given to her but she will pass through each night without any danger he adds.

Mary Joyce was born to one Ogwal of Chegere village in Chegere Sub County in 1902 (according to her late husband’s brother, one Onesimus who is now 100). Onesimus says Mary Joyce did not go to any formal school during British colonial rule but was taught to learn the alphabet a little by Church Missionary Society and was later confirmed in the Church of Uganda Adigo as a communicant

It is thought she married in 1921 when she was 19 or 20. She was married by the hands of a grandmother called Cungkalto the late Dison Opio, a road overseer of Chegere. Back then marrying a wife cost between 10 to 20 cows but no one knows how many cows were used to pay for Mary Joyce’s dowry.

Opio died when she was still young but she did not get another man and remarry. Toward s 1939 she migrated across the shores of Lake Kyoga. She produced many children whose exact number is unknown. Her son says there were 13, of which ten died and three survived. The survivors are named Ojuka Joel, Orech Melchizedek and a daughter known as Akullu. They are all septuagenarians or octogenarians. She has many grandchildren, beyond 60 in number.

She is always found seated in front of her hut near this KC’s home, at times eating from a black saucepan. Most of the time she sleeps on torn, dirty bed sheets on the floor.

She has poor vision, which comes on and disappears at times. She can hear sometimes but not always. One time she surprised me by asking who I was. And everybody wondered why the old mother who hasn’t spoken to anybody for so long spoke to me. Some say it is a sign of good luck for me to continue writing winning stories on the KC website, such as this one.

Her hair is still long and black but her flesh is rough. Her veins can be seen beneath her flesh. She rarely smears herself with any body lotion nor takes a bath unless she is given one by a well wisher. She sits on a paper mat provided by his son Joel who is her current caregiver.

But she has not forgotten how to sweep the surroundings of her home. It looks as if this comes from her memory. She sits with a broom always besides her and likes collecting small pieces of sticks, which symbolize the firewood she used to use during her teenage years. But Joel tells me that she does not like any fire nor light besides her. Only she likes basking in the morning sunshine until it becomes too hot for her then she enters the cool by crawling inside her hut.

She does not move very far, just from inside her house to the front part of her door, then after some time back inside.

Some people say this centenarian mother beat us by staying alive longer and by being safe from the current HIV pandemic. But here in Lango sub region one could assert that the more you grow older the more people see you as useless and the less assistance or attention you get.

Just imagine if Mary Joyce were yours what would you have done? The question remains unanswered by all.

May God bless the people who ardently love and take care of their mothers until called to final rest in eternal life.

 

Posted by Williams Moi

Born July 11th 1966 Lira Hospital, Williams Moi went to Omuge Primary School in 1983, Lira Town College in 1984. Joined journalism as a freelancer in 1998 , worked with various Radio stations before joining Uganda Broadcasting Cooperation, which is a National Broadcaster where he works to date. Attended various trainings.Founded the north eastern media peace initiative 2003,NEMPI-Uganda ,now its director,and now Key correspondent in Uganda.

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2 comments on Growing old in Oyam, Uganda: Mary Joyce’s story

  1. sosimous

    What a wonderful story about the centenarian mother of northern Uganda.
    Williams Moi deserves a big prize on his head for the story.And so is the old mother who deserves further help too until God calls her to rest.

    i wish him a good career in writing features.
    thanks
    sosimous

  2. JOHN

    This story is incredible! The picture speaks for it.

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