Flora Fadzai Sibanda, Chronicle Reporter
The streets are bustling with life as different voices battle to be heard all at once.
Vendors scout for customers while kombi drivers tout different destinations.
Loud music can be heard blaring from speakers in a nearby shop as the shop owner tries to capture the attention of customers.
In the midst of all the rush is one vendor who catches the eye of a Chronicle news crew as he chats away while using only one hand to make a shoe that is perched on his lap.
Filled with curiosity about how he does this, the crew stops and watches him as he puts the sole of the shoe in between his legs and cuts it into the shape he wants.
He picks up a bottle of glue, again positions it between his legs and uses a knife to scoop out the glue, which he spreads onto the sole and the top part of the shoe. He uses the stump of his arm to press down the glue in order for it to stick.
He takes a scratch awl and shoe thread and presses down on the spot he wants to sew using the stump of his arm, much to the amusement of everyone watching him.
People speak in hushed tones and whisper among themselves about whether or not he might be hurting himself.
Whoever said life begins at 40 was talking about Mr Amon Madeu (44), a Bulawayo-based cobbler who lost part of his right arm some four years ago and has since learnt how to make shoes and trousers using one hand.
Mr Madeu makes leather shoes along 11th Avenue using his left arm after his other arm was amputated below the elbow in 2019.
He said learning to be left-handed was hard, that is why he believes life began at 40 for him because he had to learn how to do everything like a small child.
Mr Madeu’s shoes range from $10 going upwards, depending on the design.
He said he remembers the day he lost his hand like it was yesterday because when it happened, he thought he had lost everything, not knowing that it was the beginning of a new journey.
“It was on September 29 in 2019. I worked at a local company as a machine operator. The machine would cut metals and on the fateful day, after I had finished doing my load, I switched off the machine, or so I thought. I did this so I could clean the machine and knock off. As I was cleaning the machine, I felt a sharp pain in my arm and when I checked, the blood that was before me was terrifying. I almost lost my mind when I saw my hand in the machine,” said Mr Madeu.
He said his colleagues rushed him to the hospital where he was given pain medication and had the area bandaged to stop the bleeding.
Mr Madeu said he was later told by nurses that there was nothing they could do to fix his hand and he had to learn how to use his left hand as his life was now dependent on it.
“When the health workers told me this, I was shattered. I felt like less of a man because I didn’t think I would manage to take care of my family with only one arm, especially the left one,” he said.
The cobbler said because he was registered with the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), the social security institution immediately took over his case and started helping him to access physiotherapy through the Worker’s Compensation Rehabilitation Centre.
He said it took him almost a year to get used to using only one hand when doing basic things like eating, washing and writing.
“After teaching me how to do the basics, they taught me how to make leather shoes like I used to. During the first week, the process was frustrating because I was not as fast as I used to be. Something as simple as cutting leather would take forever,” said Mr Madeu.
After a few weeks however, he said he became competent at the craft.
Mr Madeu said through the rehabilitation programme, he was taught how to sew trousers and make detergents in order to augment his earnings.
“Despite getting the hang of what I used to do, adjusting to society was hard as people would occasionally point and look at me with eyes full of pity. Even when I started making shoes from here, people would stop and ask me if it was not painful using the stump of my arm when pressing down the needle or the leather so it could stick,” said the cobbler.
He said now that people are used to it, he is able to go about his daily work without being disturbed by anyone or having people looking at him with eyes full of pity.
Mr Madeu said he wakes up as early as 5AM to go to the leather warehouse and buy the leather that he uses during the day.
He said when he gets to his work station, he displays the already-made shoes and trousers while making new pairs.
“Business is not the same all the time. There are days when it’s very easy and days when one suffers just to sell a single shoe.
“I hope one day I can get a shop where I can sell all my products properly. Living with one arm doesn’t mean one can’t do anything with their life. It’s all about adjusting to the situation and making the best out of it,” said Mr Madeu. – @flora_sibanda