It is the kind of tale you would expect to hear from South Africa, in movies or places where crime grows. To think of an innocent lady being showered with eight bullets in Malawi is grotesque. But as Bright Mhango and Christopher Jimu found out, it is a reality for one family in Lilongwe.
In Biwi Township in Lilongwe, days are usually normal and on one such normal day, 1 August 2012, the Tumaines gathered at their residence after a day of chores, work and business.
The heavy meal, the chit-chat at the dinner table and some prime time television drew some yawns and by 9pm everyone was in their bed.
Some three hours after going to bed, a brutal surprise paid the family a visit. As they slept, a huge rock was hurled through the window into the master bedroom by some unidentified thugs, throwing the family into traumatic terror.
The Tumaines were under siege; some of the thugs had by this time also breached the main door using the same trick of throwing a rock at the door as they did the bedroom window.
And the terror of the rock being flown into the matrimonial bedroom was only the beginning as the thugs aimed the nozzles of their automatic guns into the room and fired away like they were trying to smoke out a wild animal from a cave that is the bedroom.
Alfred Tumaine, the husband, rushed into another room of the house and, thanks to his quick instincts, called his neighbours. Only he can tell how a civilian neighbour would help a house under siege by thugs who seem only too eager to put their guns to use.
But his faith paid off. The neighbours who had heard the gunshots and had received the call from Tumaine senior risked their lives, got out of their houses and started pelting stones on the roof of the besieged house in the hope of scaring the robbers.
The gang of thugs panicked with guns in their hands. If someone heard the gunshots and yet had the nerve to throw stones, they are probably too good and very brave, they thought. And so the gang left the scene with thunderous footsteps, retreating to their evil lairs to redraw their plans.
Two cell phones and a laptop were taken by the miscreants but the unquantifiable damage the ruthless gang effected is still being counted today, months after the attack.
As the thugs tried to breach into the house, as Tumaine called for back-up and as neighbours rallied to protect their own, one person was focusing all her efforts on staying alive and that person was his wife Margaret.
Eight of the bullets spewed by the guns landed on Margaret and all bullets entered her body on the area just below the right shoulder bone, directly behind her right breast. One bullet landed in the trough that is the line of the spine.
The robbers shot her at point-blank range and left her for dead.
As if eight bullets is not curse enough, one or two thugs also stepped on her leg as they were escaping, leaving it broken.
“In all the hospitals that I have been too, I have astounded many doctors who say that I am a living miracle,” said Margaret.
“I am alive by the grace of God. Who is alive out there after being shot eight times?”
Two of the eight bullets smashed and lodged in her spinal cord and, as a result, she is paralysed from the chest down.
She narrated the ordeal at her house last Sunday, braving the pain but unable to suppress it as she spoke from her wheelchair.
The bubbly busy bee of the house who used to do the chores and take care of her children now depends on her husband and children for everything as the only thing she can move are the arms and head.
The Tumaines fled war in Rwanda and settled in Malawi in 2000. It has not been an easy life. That the family is together is a mystery.
“We got married when we were young, but the war in Rwanda nearly separated us. At one point, we went separate ways for three months, but by the grace of God we met again and decided to come to Malawi. Once we got a chance to move to Malawi, we never looked back because Malawi is a peaceful country,” said Margaret.
While at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa, the couple started venturing into small-scale businesses and soon they were living in Lilongwe.
Lilongwe did not offer them reprieve from the war they had fled as in 2004, according to Margaret, some strange-looking men invaded their house in Area 22 and demanded the whereabouts of her husband.
“They pointed a gun at my forehead and I thought that was my last day. When they searched the whole house and discovered that my husband was not around, they left,” she said.
When they moved to Biwi a couple of years later, gunmen came to their shop, started shooting in the air but instantly left after seeing that a crowd was gathering.
Then in early 2012, said Margaret, some strangers came to their house, with some of them wearing police uniforms, but they were not allowed to enter the gate because of their suspicious looks.
“I was wondering all along why these men were following us like that and what their motive was. I knew that they were up to something because they could not be following us everywhere we went for nothing,” she said.
And then August 1 2012 happened.
Bathed and soaked in blood, Margaret was rushed to Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) where some medical personnel reportedly predicted that she would not live.
The husband said he has been to several hospitals apart from KCH such as Dae Yang Luke, Mwaiwathu as well as Kachere Rehabilitation Centre, hoping that his wife would get better but it has remained just that—hope.
“I am very devastated because the person who was looking after our kids is paralysed. All my businesses have stagnated because I spend much time looking after my wife. She cannot sleep comfortably on her own and every two hours I have to turn her, meaning that I sleep little,” said Tumaine.
He said their three children are now living in fear after seeing their mother shot.
“Sometimes my children just start crying and it becomes tough to control them because their mother is not well. Every day, we live in constant fear,” said Tumaine.
He pleaded with well-wishers who can help his wife get specialist treatment outside Malawi to step in and help out so that the two bullets embedded in her spine be removed.
“We were told by some doctors that if we can get proper specialist treatment outside the country the bullets in my wife’s spine might be removed and eventually she may be able to walk again,” said Tumaine.
The Tumaines thought they had fled the war, but they found another in Malawi. It is not clear whether the assailants are enemies from their original home trying to settle some feud, people whose toes they stepped on along the way or just regular robbers.
As for Margaret, it does not need to take a course in hermeneutics to guess what she puts in her prayers and the questions she poses to her God.