Living with an ailment your entire life can be said to be the heaviest baggage one can carry through the journey of life. While some are left with the struggle of only carrying and learning to live with their baggage while receiving so much love and support from the people in their lives, others have to carry their own baggage under the evil eyes and venomous utterances of society, scorned, rebuffed, discriminated against, and stigmatized.
Asma’u Ahmad, a graduate of microbiology from Bayero University Kano (BUK), first daughter to Mrs Sa’adatu and Malam Ahmad, and the only child of the Ahmad family living with sickle cell anemia since two others (Abdul Ahad and Abdul Akhir) were lost to the battle 15 and 13 years ago, was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia at 8 months old and has lived with and battled it till date. Growing up with sickle cell anemia was exceptionally hard for Asma’u not only because she had two other siblings who suffered the same ailment with her at a time and so the love and care had to be shared equally between all three of them then, but also because she had to live a life of isolation from her peers by her peers. Their parents did a good job of raising three soldiers then one and the rest of their children through the years, living through the pain and trauma and always managing to stand strong like diamond hearted stallions – ever ready to help and support, so full of hope.
As a child, Asma’u had to be a lone-soldier because none of the little girls around her home would play with her because they thought her very weak and to an extent incapacitated. Her little lady friends would rather have her sit and watch them play for her, for even in their little baby minds, they had processed that playing with them always made her ill for some reason and even though they didn’t understand that reason, they still avoided it – they pitied their dear friend and thought they were helping her stay healthy, little did they know that they were making her feel so alone and inferior to them. “I remember always feeling isolated and intimidated by my friends as a child. Whenever I managed to forcefully play with them, it ended in series of complains about aches all over my body to my mother and sometimes, full blown crisis. I’d miss a few days of school since my crisis didn’t linger for too long back then, then return to start struggling to keep up with my peers and the circle continued. I won’t stop trying to play with them then even when I realized what it did to me because I was afraid of being looked down on. I thought I was disabled and it hurt me so much.” One noticeable and most alluring feature of Asma’u is her ability to take life as it comes, always focusing on the good in every situation she finds herself and trusting God to do what is right for her – she never stops smiling.
Asma’u, fondly called Asmee by her friends and loved ones, is one of the many sickle cell warriors that have faced the monstrous countenance of discrimination. The pain I saw in her eyes when I asked whether she has been openly rebuffed or discriminated against because she has sickle cell anemia left me a little heartbroken, and actually hearing and seeing her talk about it made me wish I hadn’t asked her to talk about it and at the same time, I’m glad she shared. A blind man could see how much of a touchy subject it was for her “discrimination is what I’ve had to deal with all my life. After primary school the only people who wanted to be friends with me after knowing I was/am a sickler were guys, even up till date – somehow the guys understood that I was not a thing to be feared , thrown away or avoided, but rather a person who needed friendship and support. For the ladies; they won’t even come close enough to learn that there was more to me than the type of blood I carry in my body for reasons best known to them. During my university days, I had to deal with moving on from relationships so many times I lost count. So many times I had to let go of people and move on, and so many times it hurt just as much as the first. It hurt and still hurts because people leave me not because of a fault of mine or because I’m not good enough for them but because I carry a type of blood I didn’t choose in my bloodstream. Some guys miraculously fall out of love or ‘just don’t feel it’ anymore soon as I reveal that I’m SS, others hang on pretending to be there through the storm after knowing just to take to their heels after the first crisis in the relationship, others genuinely love and want to be with you but their parents/relatives won’t have any of it and would do all that it takes to put a stop to the relationship. People say marrying us, SS females, destroys a man financially and psychologically. They say marrying an SS male is signing up for widowhood at a young age for the ladies – making us look and sound like a problem every sane human being must avoid. We build strong walls and bridges to be able to live through our pains and carry our baggage in peace but people would stop at nothing to bring them down with discrimination and stigmatization. What fault of ours is it that we were born with sickle cell? Don’t we deserve the happiness people always talk about that comes with getting married and building a home of your own? Is living with sickle cell anemia not painful enough for us that we have to deal with human afflicted heartaches and so much hatred?” she looked so brittle, like just heated glass that has been exposed to sudden drop in temperature – ready to break. Seeing one of the strongest sickle cell soldiers I’ve ever met display so much pain while talking about a sickle cell related issue only says that it cuts deep. I’ll let your imaginations inform you.
Personally, I don’t see any reason behind the stigmatization on sickle cell and the discrimination against sickle cell patients; for one, it is not a disease one gets through an atrocious act neither is it a curse upon people who have committed an abomination or sin nor a punishment for people who have transgressed – it is not a disease for the despicable and it is not contagious. People living with SCD are inarguable (or not) the lot that need all the love and support from the people they come across in life – from all. I’m not trying to support the discrimination against people suffering from other contagious diseases, but if people suffering from genetically inherited diseases like SCD that cannot be transferred to another person by any form of contact whatsoever can be treated with so much disdain, what message does this send to the former class of people? This is something we really need to look into and address as a people that have access to so many educative platforms in this present age and time.
Asma’u has been a sucker for love since her teenage years and even now in her late twenties she still remains so. ‘Hopeful romantic’ she calls herself. When asked whether like many other people who have been through her ordeal she have given up on love and marriage, she replied; “No, I’ve not given up on either. I believe that God has created someone special for everyone in this world, it’s just that fortunately or unfortunately, some of us have to go suffer through a lot before we find our special significant other. I can’t give up on love even if I wanted to. Love is a beautiful thing and I will continue waiting and at the same time looking for it until it either finds me or I find it. My own time will come.” I also believe your time will come, Asmee. One of these days, someone special will come and make you fall in love again, someone even more special than you expect, someone that will love all of you and make you smile at the idea of being in a relationship, getting married, and starting a family of your own again – a man who will live your fairytale with you. Now who wouldn’t love and be proud to call a strong spirited and jovial person like Asma’u Ahmad Rufa’i his wife?! She is the human definition of perseverance.
Asma’u says she gives the most credit for helping her fight sickle cell anemia to both her parents for always being there for her, helping and supporting her through the years and never for once showing tiredness or giving up on her. “I would give my parents the whole world if I could. I didn’t start my sickle cell journey this strong. As a child I always complained and blamed every bad thing that happened to me on sickle cell anemia until my father stepped in to teach me how to be strong. My father made me realize that sickle cell is not the cause of all of my problems; it was and is not a curse on me. My father taught me that God has kept a hidden blessing in my battle and I have to be strong and persevere if I wanted to find that hidden blessing. My mother on the other hand is my love bank. She’s always there to help soothe my pains with her kind words and hands. I don’t know what I would’ve done with my life without my parents’ endless supply of love, support, and sacrifices for me. They are always tirelessly there for me when I need them. I pray God Almighty rewards them with the highest rank in jannah for all of their troubles on this earth.” She also outlined that what has kept and motivated her to keep pushing is the knowledge that God did not give her sickle cell anemia because he hates her or to punish her but because He loves her, and also for a special purpose only He knows about for now. “Allah loves me. He gave me sickle cell anemia for a reason, and I might not know the special purpose He has for giving me sickle cell anemia for now, but I know there is one. I also believe I was created to be pure; islamically, it is believed that if you’re afflicted by a calamity or an ailment and you accept it with faith that it is from God and then you have patience and persevere while trusting God to do what is best for you, that calamity or ailment will be a source of gaining reward and expiation of sins for you – so my Allah blessed me with sickle cell to always cleanse me of my since so as to die spotless.”
Asma’u is the true image of the meaning of her name; she is every bit beautiful from the inside out and everyone who comes close to her will undoubtedly adore her unless that person doesn’t come close enough, she radiates beauty and makes sure she leaves a lot of it wherever she goes, I call her ZIRCON which is an important and beautiful gemstone of many colors that is also a historical gemstone used for thousands of years. It is sometimes looked upon as a cheap diamond stimulant but it is in itself a valuable gem. A zircon’s color diversity is caused by traces of certain impurities that end up making it beautifully colorful just like Asma’u Ahmad; the existence of sickling red blood cells in her body don’t make her any less of a precious human being, the discrimination people throw at her are the impurities that have made her the beautiful and strong woman that she is right now, and hopefully she will be remembered for a very long time even beyond this worldly life.