Husseini Elhadj Omarou was born with cleft lip. His twin brother, Hassane was also born with cleft lip. Hassane and Hussein are popular names for twins here in Niger. If you meet a Hassane or a Hussein, chances are they have a twin brother. Both Hassane and Husseini grew up dealing with their cleft lip, and it was not easy. Twins are already viewed as suspicious, and twins with matching cleft lips would be considered very bad luck. Luckily, they had each other for support. They were brothers and they took care of each other. Also, their father was the imam of the village, so nobody said anything to them. But when they went to other villages people made fun of them, and pointed and laughed. But life goes on. Hassane and Husseini grew up and both got married and had children. Then Hassane died.
Now Husseini is 47 years old, and his twin brother is gone. But he has other brothers, and they take care of him as well. Brothers are important in this family. Husseini’s brothers are also imams. Imams are also important in this family. Mahamadou, is Husseini’s older brother. He took his father’s place as the imam of the village. Halidou is Husseini’s younger brother. He is also an imam, but here in Niamey. They both came with Husseini to the CURE hospital, and all sat down in a row according to their order of birth. It did not seem like they sat that way intentionally, but out of habit.
We asked them to tell us their story, and how they came to the hospital. Mahamadou did most of the talking. He spoke on behalf of Husseini, and spoke as one who is used to speaking on behalf of the family. But he was not overbearing. He seemed like a kind and gentle older brother. Husseini did not hesitate to interject every once in awhile, but he was hard to understand. We met with him once before the operation, and his words were slurred because of the extent of the cleft lip. When we met with him after the operation, he was hard to understand because of the swelling. Halidou, for his part, mostly sat and listened. But he smiled in a friendly way, and nodded his head in agreement with everything that his brothers said.
The three brothers come from a village called Chinyerga, in the region of Sanam. It is in the desert. They are Tuareg, but they also speak Hausa. Their village is very remote, only about 300 km. from Niamey, but in reality, worlds away. Over the years, Husseini made friends with a military man who is stationed in a town near his village. He would often go and visit him, especially on market days when he would be in town anyway. One day his friend told him that he had heard about a hospital in Niamey that treats cleft lips. Husseini was interested, but not convinced. His friend told him that he would try to get more information about the hospital on his next trip to Niamey. He left, and when he came back he was excited to see Husseini. He brought before and after pictures of cleft lip patients that had been treated at the CURE hospital. This was all the proof Husseini needed. He started making plans to come to Niamey, and immediately told his brothers about the hospital.
Husseini knew that he would need money for his trip. The city is an expensive place. But he had nothing. So he decided to go to a place nearby that is known for its gold and its goldmines. These are not mines that are run by an enterprise or organization, just individual panhandlers. Husseini went and started digging for gold, but he knew that he was digging for a cure. Eventually he dug up enough, took it to the market and sold it for cash. Now he was ready.
The operation was a great success, and Husseini’s lip has healed wonderfully. He even started growing a mustache! He and his brothers were very happy with their experience at CURE, and told us over and over again how impressed they were with the warm reception they received. “You treat everyone the same,” Mahamadou said, “it does not matter if they are black or white, or Hausa, Tuareg or Djerma. Everyone is treated like a member of the family.” In other words, everyone is treated like a brother.