A Little Girls' Fight Against Vitiligo In Nigeria

Vitiligo occurs when the melanin producing cells stops functioning thereby causing white patches on the skin. The white patches can affect any part of the body including the face. vitiligo is more noticeable on people with dark skin and there's no cure for it.

By Clavia Okoli

PUBLISHED: August 29, 2023

A Little Girls' Fight Against Vitiligo In Nigeria


I strolled into the school compound as my mom dropped me off at the school gate by 6:38 a.m. and drove off to work. She's a branch manager of a bank which means she leaves for work very early. From the look of things and the deafening silence, I was the only student in school. 

Walking into the school I heard chairs and tables being dragged on the cemented floor. The hallway was cloudy, it immediately reminded me of graveyard scenes in movies. The eerie atmosphere, the smoke from nowhere, and the caw and kraa's from crows. I quickly snapped out of my dark imagination to know when it was time to run for my dear life. There was movement in the cloudy hallway which now looks dark like in horror movies. A woman walked out of the smoky cloud with a broom and packer in her hands with a smile on her face when she saw me. Oh, don't mind the mess, she said. I'm trying to clean up as fast as I can before the students start trooping in. Use this to cover your nose because of the dust.

Thank you, ma, I replied in a quivery voice while collecting the handkerchief she took out from her overalls with my trembling hands. She scared the living daylights out of me. For a second, I thought I was going to be devoured by a creature with a long slimy tongue, round and bulgy eye sockets that were as huge as a human head, and the body mass of a dinosaur. 

Whoof, I shook my body in a way to rid myself of the evil dreadful thoughts.I finally got to my new class. Primary 6A. Found a good spot at the back as per my usual sitting position and dropped my backpack and lunchbox. What do I do now to waste away time? Nothing was coming to mind as I was still shaken by the dusty encounter. I opened my bag and took out a stick sweet I stole from the fridge, unwrapped it, and popped it into my mouth. Looking out the window, I saw a newly installed Jangilover (swing). It wasn't there last term.

The Perfect distraction, I muttered to myself. A few minutes later, I was sitting on the swing, with my sweet still tucked in the corner of my mouth. I closed my eyes while pushing the swing with my body weight in an attempt to enjoy what felt like the only peace I had known since the long vacation. A strong wave of memories from the holiday flooded in but I quickly kicked them out. It's too early to be reminiscing about unhappy memories. It's a new school year, I can make happy memories. Or not. I don't know how everybody will react when they see me or how I will react. But I'm a few minutes away from finding out. Damn, I'm in front of the class already? When did I get here? Was lost in thought that I walked to my classroom without being aware. Talk about an absent mind.

Anyway, here I am. It's about to go down. 1 2 3! OMG! One of my classmates shouted. What happened to your face? I watched as they all left the "How was your holiday? gist to flock around me. Oma, what happened to you? Is it hot water? Why is your face filled with white patches? We almost didn't recognize you. I was about to respond to the gazillion questions and inquisitive eyes when Queen B of our class made her way to me by pushing people aside. I guess you finally got what you deserve. Your mouth has finally gotten you into the deep hot waters of trouble. Or were you deep-fried? Neche queried with her evil smile.

Maybe you talked back to your mom with your sassy little attitude and she blessed you with holy hot water. She continued. I expected drama but this is a Nollywood special. I've been through so much over the past 2 months for me to crumble in front of them. There were nights I cried myself to sleep. Days I couldn't go out with my family because of the judgy eyes and avoidance I get from people. Staying back while everybody goes out was a decision I made after some market women accused my mom of bleaching my skin.

My mom decided we should buy some foodstuffs after visiting our family doctor to know why I started developing white patches all over my body. The corners of my eyes, my lips, my chin, and my cheeks have been engulfed with white patches. My brown skin is just in traces.

The doctor called it Vitiligo (Vit-ih-LIE-go). He said it's a skin disease that causes the skin to lose its colour to white patches. And The discoloured parts get bigger with time. Does it have a cure? my mother asked. No, it does not. The doctor replied. She will have to adjust to her new reality. It's going to be hard but with love from family and friends, she will get through it.

Get through it? How? Will my skin return to normal one day? Will this nightmare pass? How do I get through it? How do I get over the fact that people treat me like a plague? Kids my age avoid me on the street. I have heard parents warn their children to stay away from me as they don't know what I'm suffering from. 

That is my new reality. Being an outcast. The worst part is that I can't hide even if I wanted to. I would always be visible amid millions. I mulled over these thoughts as tears started flowing heavily down my cheeks. My mom hugged me and allowed me to cry while patting my hair down to my back and muffling sorry, it will be okay in a shaky voice. We left the hospital and went straight to the market for foodstuffs. 

Stay in the car and wait for me, my mom said. No, I'm coming with, I responded. I don't want to sit here alone. Okay then. Let's go, she motioned. As we approached the vendors, everyone in the market turned their faces toward me, some were pointing and others saying stuff under their voices. Some of them intentionally let their opinions be heard. How could you bleach your daughter's skin to this extent? Even if it's hot water, what were you doing? How careless could you be as a parent to let this happen?

I heard it and my mom heard it. She took my hands in hers and we made our way back to the car without buying anything. Are you okay, baby? Yes, I am, Mom. Are you okay? I asked. And she nodded.

When we got home, I went back to my room and bawled out my eyes. That was when I decided to stay back while others went out. I couldn't allow my mom to be accused of something we don't understand why it happened. Or rob my family of their happiness just because of my presence. But I'm not going to lose out in the world and lose at school. I have to find a way to fight back. If not, Neche will turn me into the school outcast and make my already hellish life more miserable. And I'm not going to tell her it's a disease or play the victim card as I'm sure it will worsen the situation.

Neche was still rambling about how everybody should avoid me as whatever is wrong with my skin could be contagious. You know, Neche. I said. This isn't a disease. I'm in transition. What do you mean you are in transition? Neche angrily asked while others looked on. I'm transitioning into a white person. My skin will soon be totally white. Liar! You can't transition to being white if you were born black. She screamed at me. Well, that's because you don't know any real-life superheroes. You only watch them on TV. So count yourself lucky to have met one. The doctor said we are very rare to find but we exist. He said he's fortunate to have met someone like me.

At this point, I could see her frustration turn into anger. You... She was about to say something when I cut in. My accent is even changing to an American accent. You wanna hear? I said in my Amerigbo accent. My other classmates were intrigued and wanted to hear me speak in an American accent. My love for Hollywood movies came in handy as I trilled them with a tongue-twisting accent.

From that day on, I was known as Americana throughout the whole school. And that's how I made them see me beyond my skin condition. My sarcasm became my super strength. My popularity grew more than Neche's. She became a friend when it was apparent there was no hating on me.

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