Haoua has been at the hospital for a few weeks. She came with her mom, Hadiza, and her little brother Ganiou. She came to the hospital because she had a big tumor on her leg, and she has had it since she was 5 years old. She is 11 years old now.
We sat down with all three of them and asked them to tell us their story. Hadiza did most of the talking. She didn’t say much at first, and it took some coaxing to get her to open up, but once she did, she had a lot to say. She told us how hard it has been trying to take care of Haoua, and how she worries about her future. Hadiza is married, but her husband does not live with her. He has 3 wives altogether and each of them lives in their own separate house. They are spread all over town, and he divides his time between his 3 wives and his home village, so basically Hadiza has raised her children as a single mother. Her husband doesn’t really work, and rarely gives her much support. The only income she has comes from selling peanuts and peanut oil. Life has always been hard for Hadiza, but it got much harder when the tumor on Haoua’s leg appeared.
She told us that one day about 6 years ago, Haoua went out and was playing by the trash dump next to their house. There are trash dumps everywhere and kids like to go poking around in them. Sometimes they find things to play with, or things they can reuse. It is very common to see kids and goats picking through the trash. But on this day when Haoua came back home, Hadiza noticed something on her leg. It was infected and a bit swollen. Hadiza said that she thought Haoua must have picked it up from the trash dump. I asked for clarification on this point, “What do you mean she picked it up in the trash dump?” Hadiza explained (for my benefit, since this was clearly basic knowledge to everyone else in the room) that many trash dumps have evil spirits.
Haoua’s father was notified, and he came to take care of her leg. He began making the rounds with her, seeing all the traditional healers he could find (or afford). Since it was a trash/spirit that caused the infection in the first place, I guess they wanted to fight fire with fire. In any case, they didn’t take her to see a doctor, only witch-doctors and marabouts. They tried different cures on her, but nothing helped, and the pain was getting worse all the time. Finally, Hadiza explained, they took her to see the mother of twins. Once again, I had to stop her, even though everyone was nodding their head in agreement and/or understanding.
“Why,” I asked, already sensing that my question was a stupid one, “did you take her to see the mother of twins?”
“Twins have special powers,” she said, with a patient smile. “When you can’t find twins to help you, then the mother of twins will do. If they have special powers, then their mother must also have powers, since she gave birth to them.”
Unfortunately, this mother of twins was no help. She did some kind of massage on Haoua’s leg, and she did it with such force that she actually broke her femur bone! Finally, after this they took Haoua to the hospital, but by that point there wasn’t much they could do. Her leg was broken, it still had a big tumor and it was leaking puss. Hadiza told us that she was very discouraged and sad. Haoua was kept out of school because of her leg, and was unable to get around at all. She basically just sat around the house all day.
Then, Hadiza heard about CURE through a friend. She brought Haoua to the hospital and met with Hannatou, our social worker, and asked her if Haoua could be treated. Hannatou was very welcoming to her and explained when she could come back for a free consultation. Now, after a successful surgery, Haoua is able to walk around and is getting steadier on her feet every day. At first she was using a walker, but now she doesn’t need it. The physical therapy is hard, but she is used to hardship, and her mother is encouraging her every step of the way.