Friday, 18 March 2016

Mavis Mtonga: Keeping beauty against all odds

Mavis was injured in a car crash in 2013.
JACK ZIMBA

“I BELIEVE I’m going to walk again,” says Mavis Mtonga, her beautiful face framed by a curly wig.
Sitting and chatting with Mavis, it is easy to overlook her inability to stand or walk, which is all covered up by her beauty and personable character. The 28-year-old is also possessed with a strong zest for life, something which has kept her going since her world changed on August 1, 2013.
Mavis was a 26-year-old fashion model when the vehicle driven by her father rolled three times after a tyre burst.
The accident happened when the family was travelling to Zambia from Botswana where they live. It was the family’s tradition to travel back home once every year, usually during the Christmas holiday.
Mavis was thrown out of the vehicle and broke a T10 vertebra, which is one of the 12 thoracic vertebrae in the spine.
She is now paralysed from waist down and confined to a wheelchair. Her aunt, whom she describes as “my best friend”, died a week later in hospital of her injuries.
Mavis dubs a tear from the corner of her eye as she talks about her, remembering the encouraging words she used to speak to her.
“She was somebody I could tell everything that was happening in my life,” she says.
Since the accident, Mavis has been fighting to get back her life and to live her dream, refusing to be limited by her inability to walk.
“I haven’t accepted being in a wheelchair, but I’ve told myself that I’m going to manage to do everything I want in life, and I’m going to continue with what I was doing before,” she says.
Before the accident happened, Mavis was studying to become a beautician and had a big dream of owning her own modelling agency.
After undergoing surgery at Botswana’s best medical facility, doctors gave Mavis a 50-50 chance to walk again, and she was admitted to a rehabilitation centre run by Spinalis, a Swedish charity that offers physical and mental therapy for people with spinal injuries.
Within a week, Mavis had learned how to get her body from the wheelchair onto her bed, as well as to bath, which, she says, can be a big challenge for someone in her condition.
She says learning to get herself onto the commode (a special wheelchair used by disabled people in a shower room) and washing herself without any assistance was one of the most exciting things, which is not surprising for a beautician.
“I love bathing. I’m the kind of person who loves taking care of myself,” she says excitedly. “When I enter the bathroom, I take time and when I enter my bedroom to dress up, I take time. I love looking good.”
Mavis believes nothing should stop anyone from looking good, and at the rehab centre, she has earned herself the title “Miss Spinalis”, because of the image she presents and her positive attitude.
She also believes the catwalk should accommodate people like her.
Mavis is very fashionable and a self-confessed shopaholic.
“I love shopping, I never get enough of shopping, I never get enough of clothes,” she says.
But she moans about her inability to wear stilettos.
And she misses trying on different kinds of clothes and walking before a mirror to see how they fit and look on her.
Usually when shopping for her clothes, she has to ask a friend to try them on for her.
And despite her condition, Mavis has managed to maintain her slender body, thanks to her small appetite.
“I’m not really into food,” she says.
A DAREDEVIL
Mavis considers herself a daredevil, who pushes herself to doing things she cannot ordinarily do, such as cooking.
“I learned a lot from Spinalis about how to be strong and take care of myself,” she says.
“You have to push yourself and tell yourself I can do this,” says the model.
Mavis now sells cosmetics to keep herself busy and to earn some income.
She says she used to get depressed about her condition sometimes.
“I overcome that only by God’s grace,” she says. “I cannot even explain it myself.”
Mavis, who has been raised in a Christian home, says her faith has helped her to cope with her condition.
“He has given me this peace in my heart that I can’t explain,” she says.
“I have seen how some of my friends who are not Christian are struggling in this condition.”
And this lady in a wheelchair still gets a lot of passes from men, although she is not keen on falling in love.
She thinks men are scared to make a lifetime commitment to a woman who is disabled, and she also fears stressing herself with the challenges of being in a relationship. “I’ve got a lot on my plate already,” she says.
Mavis, however, believes God will one day send her an angel who will love her the way she is.
And she dreams of having her own family.
“I always wanted twins – a boy and a girl,” she says before breaking into laughter.