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Day of the Disabled

Day of the Disabled

Since the situation in Angola – or even Luena – isn't talked about, we depend completely on "numbers", gossip, and rumour. Sergio from PAM said, "There are no correct numbers available. Forget the numbers." You get numbers from OCHA (Organisation for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), WFP (World Food Program), MSF (Medicins Sans Frontières), etc. These figures make one's life and work more understandable – and beyond that, more bearable. The number of refugees and IDP per day: about 100 (November 4th, 2000). The number of orphans MSF cares for in the area of Luena: 1,274. The number of people given supplies by PAM at the beginning of November was 32,000. And there are 4,500 in the "Food for Work" project.

Besides these numbers, there are the arbitrary numbers everyone creates from experience, or by using their imagination. For example: On the Day of the Disabled (December 3rd), many amputees were demonstrating. A lot. A huge number. I mean, you could see amputees literally everywhere on crutches, with prostheses, or in wheelchairs. And Polio victims, mostly children – their legs paralysed – on crutches or in wheelchairs, or even crawling along like little animals, like crabs, using their knees and hands to walk. Sorry – I've gotten off topic. Numbers… So, it's estimated there were between 150-350 disabled people there – or was it perhaps more? In any case, they made a very strong impression.

These disabled people were demonstrating in Luena, desperately demanding to have a T-shirt that had been sponsored by MAG, VVAF, CAPDC, the JRS and NPA. 200 T-shirts had been produced, but that wasn't enough – part of the problem: most of the organisers and associates (including myself) were wearing one. The young women were chanting and shouting some slogans like "Down with the mines!" I thought that was a bit strange – isn't the ground the most dangerous place to put mines?

After everyone gathered at the main square, six beautiful girls gave a dance performance, accompanied by drums. But their beauty, athleticism, and grace couldn't compete with an older woman, who – with an amputated leg – walked directly in front of them, and started dancing herself. At first she was dancing standing up, suspended by her crutches. But after a few moments, when she had attracted the attention of the four journalists' cameras (including mine – in the distance), she lay down on the street, and continued rocking her body to the music. Later on, there were several sport competitions. One was a short sprint by single-leg amputees. Women and men together, competing. I was struck by a woman in a beautiful green silk costume, who joined the competition just before it began. To increase her chances, she took off her shoes. Then there was a wheelchair race. Not with the wheelchairs we know, but with a tricycle-type, the pedals of which are manually-powered with the hands. All these tricycles are painted red, and most of them are in a very bad shape. Often, the front wheel is broken, and it's suspended using some wire and tape. Actually, one participant refused to race – he said that although he might win, he might lose his wheelchair.

The third race raises my suspicions. Three people will race – one woman, and two men. Although the men are arm amputees... the woman doesn't seem to lack anything, she has all her extremities... her arms and legs are complete! But they have a lot of fun anyway. One man falls down during the first round, but he laughs through the remainder of the race, and the spectators cheer him on. The woman comes second, and is rewarded for her beautiful style. The last competition is more than dangerous for the public: javelin throwing… because the spectators stand just beside the track where the javelin is supposed to land. And the javelin almost hits a spectator three times during the competition. First place: 23 metres.