For Kehinde Mosunmola Taiwo, life took a rather inexplicable turn after she turned 16. What looked like a harmless mark on her hand turned out to be vitiligo and it was only a matter of time before it started spreading all over. Not only has she been embarrassed on account of her skin condition by friends, she has lost several relationships that would have led to marriage.
She recently walked into PMParrot/Parrot Xtra Magazine’s head office, Ring Road, Ibadan, where she narrated her pathetic trajectory which took her to Obatala shrines and various hospitals and how she was subjected to humiliation of varying degrees. WOLE ADEJUMO, MAYOWA OWOGBADE and OLUDOTUN AJIBOLA spoke with her. Excerpts:
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Kehinde Mosunmola Taiwo. I am a native of Ijebu Ode, second child of a polygamous family of 14; my mum is the first wife. I live in Abeokuta, I am a student of the Federal Cooperative College, Eleyele, Ibadan. I am a single mother, I lost my ex-husband last year. He died through sickness (typhoid). I have my NCE; I finished from the Federal College of Education in 2011. I studied Physical and Health Education.
Let talk about Vitiligo, tell us your experience with it?
It started in 2003, when I was 16 years. I was in J.S.S.3 then. Before then I was living with my sister at Ijebu Ode. After I traveled down from Ijebu Ode, I changed my school and after some time I noticed a dot on my left hand. I thought it was just a scratch. Along the line, it started spreading, and I didn’t care about it because I felt it would go. One Mr. Akindele who was my P.H.E teacher then advised me to go to those selling herbs because the whitish spots are called the marks of Obatala.
But because I don’t like all those Obatala stuff, I did not tell my parents at all. When it got to some point that it started spreading all over my left hand, I had to tell my parents what I was told. My mum was against it, she said it was just a reaction to something, maybe the change of environment that it would vanish. So that was how it started from there, it spread to my right hand. I noticed that any spot in my left hand will be on my right hand. At first I was feeling shame in spite of the fact that I am naturally vocal. I am not a shy person. Then I usually participated in so many activities in school, dancing, singing and poetry, because I was a literature student in school. I did a lot of competitions especially inter-school competitions. But when my vitiligo became very visible, I became a shy being owing to the fact that people who would ordinarily come to watch me perform because of my talent now began to attend my events from far and near just to see my skin.
They only wanted to see how I would comport myself in front of the audience. Based on that, I started getting popular. But as my popularity soared, the humiliation especially from people outside my school, I mean those in my environment, became heightened. I started noticing that they began to keep a distance and also call me different names like; marine child, spiritual child and so on. Then I was in a relationship. I met the guy I was dating then and he told me that I needed to go back to my hometown to appease the gods because my problem was traditional. He said I have to go and worship the idol in my hometown named Obatala. So out of desperation we both went to Ijebu Ode not because he was ashamed of me but because we all wanted the condition to go. We went to Ijebu Ode and then to my dad’s home town, Owu Ikija. We met some old women there. They gave me a list of items that cost N 173,000 for the rituals they would perform. I went to the market myself. My boyfriend had to sell everything he had; I mean everything in the house to pay for the ritual.
So I went back, I brought those things that were needed. I stood in the shrine for seven days without wearing anything. I only tied white wrapper and I ate only snail and melon for those seven days. They also said that Obatala does not eat pepper that it is only white things that Obatala wants. So they mixed the snail, melon and shear butter together. So that was what I was eating throughout the seven days. I was the one feeding those people in the shrine for seven days.
After the seven days, I went back to Abeokuta, when I was leaving, I was given two buckets filled with shear butter (the small paint bucket). When I got to Abeokuta, I started using the shear butter. They said I should be mixing the shear butter with the water from the snail. When I was there, I used to take like two bottles of schnapps in a day. I normally take alcohol, but not as much as that. I would always feel dizzy and they will say the idols are working on me. I knew it was all lies because I never believed. If I had believed in all they did, maybe it would have gone. But I didn’t and I won’t because it is not in my nature. So after using it for like three months without any noticeable change, I stopped. I went back to using my own shear butter. I remembered I went to the market and bought like N 1,000 worth of snails and they said I should use stream water, fetched early in the morning. So I had to find a stream. I was staying at Adigbe in Abeokuta then, I had to take N 200 bike to one of the villages to find a stream so I could get water. There was a Celestial Church that I usually stayed over so I could get there early. And after taking the water, I would go back and put the snail in the water for like two days. After which I would break the snail and mix the water with the shear butter. I also added dry gin to it, they said it will reduce the smell.
I was in Osiele in Abeokuta then, for my NCE. It was a hard time for me. There was a day my roommate saw me when I was trying to cut the snail into the shear butter. Then she went out and started shouting that I was doing charm in the room. That was the most embarrassing moment of my life. When she started shouting; like 50 students came out. They told me to carry the shear butter with the snail in my hand and told me to carry it around the compound although I was not staying in the hostel, I was staying at Isale Oja in Osiele. I was trying to explaining to them but nobody was ready to listen. Incidentally, I had beef with her before then. She always said that I was always ahead of her, so she thought it was that stuff I was using to boost my knowledge. I kept a lot of things to myself; I didn’t talk to her about the journey I made initially.
So I was paraded round the compound and they were shouting. There was one old woman that later rescued me after I explained to her, she said “go inside, they don’t understand and they can’t understand”. She just saved me that day and from that day on, she became my friend. The woman started taking me out to some men to give me some herbs. At first it worked, not that it was clearing it off but it was making it dull. So the man told me to pay N 12,000 every three months. I started planning that, I went to my boyfriend; he gave me money because we were seeing the effect so I believe it would work. But later on, I had to stop. I thereafter met one Ife man and he said Ifa festival was holding in his town so I followed him, I spent four day there. I paid N 37,000 for the festival.
When I got there, they barbed my hair and gave me a calabash to carry. I don’t know what was inside. I had to carry it on my head. I walked with them on the road with tears saying this is not my portion but I didn’t have a choice because I wanted it to leave and some other people want it to fade. So I had to do it for the sake of those people that like me. They gave me schnapps to drink, they told me to finish the whole bottle and I started staggering, so they were shouting “baba oooo” they were hailing me. The same thing they did to me in my home town. It was not good at all. It got to a point that I said to myself, I am not going to do this again. So I started going to church. Once in a while, I pray over it. Sometimes I will buy anointing oil, pray into it and then pour it into my shear butter for use.
I drink so it doesn’t really weigh me down, so anytime I am high, I go inside and sleep.
Did u start drinking because of vitiligo?
You said you attend Celestial Church?
Yes my Dad is an Olusho (a founder).
Have they been able to pay attention to the vitiligo?
Not in my dad’s church, it was in a different Celestial Church because I was staying with my grandmother then, (my father’s mother) .They said I got it from there. My grandpa was one of the Obatala worshipers and he also had vitiligo. I don’t really know much about him because I was small when he was alive. I only knew of the twins’ idol (orisa ibeji) because there are many twins in my family and I recalled that I used to eat the sacrificed items after each appeasement of the idol.
So when I was going to my former church, before my dad built his church, they told me that it was due to what I had eaten when I was with my grandparents. I believed it. They said there was a tree that had been cut and that I had to look for the shoot before my problem could receive solution. Since I didn’t know where the tree was, I did not bother. That was that about the church.
There was this day I went to a birthday party with my friends, where we got there, everyone abandoned me. So the mother of the celebrant was asking, who did I come with? None of them was bold to say I came with them. I saw it and I felt bad, they did not give me anything to eat or drink. I just sat there all alone though everybody was dancing but I just sat there and I was crying inside of me. The celebrant’s dad later came to me and started dancing with me. That was when I felt relieved. It was later I knew that he was my dad’s junior in the office at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta. That is where my dad works. We started talking from there. I left those my friends there and I went home.
Some years after, I was having a prayer and song ministration because I usually sing and do prayer ministrations. It was my first time in the church and when it was my turn to minister, I was just shouting without microphone because the choir master refused to give me the microphone due to my skin colour. The crowd couldn’t hear me without a microphone so I was just shouting on my own and my guy was singing.
What was the reaction of the congregation?
They knew what happened and they were so disappointed because they never expected such from the choir master. They tried to talk him out of that attitude but he was this hardhearted person, so that was how I finished the ministration. They tried to apologize; but the deed had been done, so I had to forgive them.
There was a day I was on the internet doing some research on white skin so I saw a picture of a woman, I took her number from her profile and called her. That was when she told me that there will be a meeting in two weeks’ time at Anthony in Lagos. She said they would be happy if I could come. On getting there, I met a lot people that had the same condition, theirs were worse than mine, some of them were white from head to toe. It was like a meeting of ghosts. I was so scared that I had to run and leave the place. She called me back and calmed me down and they all started telling me their stories. That was when I knew I was favoured so they asked me to tell my own story and I started crying.
Later, I started singing and when they asked me why, I told them that now I have realized I have no problem. So they tried to encourage and enlighten me and since then, I have been encouraging myself. There are lots of big people in the foundation; we have pilots, bank managers among us. Only three of us are not employed. The married ones even came with their spouses.
After the program, I rushed out because I didn’t want to walk with them because I didn’t want people to know that we are the same. So we started meeting after then and they started encouraging me. I now stopped wearing big cloth because then, I was always covering everything but now I am freer and I can wear any cloth. I now attend parties and other events because the group was not ashamed of the condition so they groomed me to accept myself and live a normal life.
In our meetings, we usually encourage and enlighten ourselves more because we have series of cases of suicide. Like a lady that was rejected after 21 years in a relationship. She and the man had been together since primary school, it got to the stage that they had to get married and the man and his family rejected the lady all because she had vitiligo. She had it on her hair; all the hair was white so she usually wore wigs. When they got to the in-laws’ house, they had to sleep over. When she wanted to sleep, she removed her wig, the mother in-law just entered without knocking and when she saw her, she fainted. The lady had cleared her makeup and she had removed the wig. When the mother-in-law to be woke up in the hospital, she said “by the time I come back to that house, I don’t want to see that lady and you are not getting married”. On the third day, she hung herself and died.
We have a lot of cases like that; and that is why we are trying to enlighten people about it and trying to make them know that we are the best, that we are beautiful and cute. I usually encourage myself and brag about myself. I no longer care what people say. Even in my school, there are people that don’t want to talk to me but, it no longer bothers me!
My daughter doesn’t have vitiligo. She will be 13 next year. She just has a big black spot on her neck. I was bothered but when I took her for a test they said it is just a natural mark that I should not bother.
The foundation, how have you been pushing it, where have you been in term of encouraging other people with the condition?
You know I am not the founder, the founder is Ogo Maduwesi; she introduced me to the group. Most times, when she is out, she sends me to some places. In Nigeria, I have been to so many states, towns, and villages. She will just call me and give the address and send me the transport fare and every year we honour Michael Jackson because he had vitiligo too. Every June 25th we go around and create awareness about Vitiligo. We have been to the School of Statistics once. I am trying to talk to somebody at the Forestry Research Institute. A colleague, Mr. Adesina is trying to help me look into how I can have a leeway into the institution. When I was in Abeokuta, I used to do it maybe once in three months. I would go to three secondary schools to I talk to their principals. But ever since I have been in Ibadan, I have just been doing the advocacy in my school every 5th of June.
You have spoken about many sad moments, but are there any moments you can say are your happy moments?
Yes, that is when I am with my parents. They make me feel loved. My saddest moments have been about my relationships so far, because the mothers always tell me to my face that I cannot marry their sons, they will say they cannot marry from an Obatala afflicted family. My last relationship ended last year September. My fiancé’s mother came back from abroad and she had always called to tell me every time that I really changed her son’s lifestyle because when I met him, he was not responsible so I changed everything about him. They attend Deeper Life Church so I had to change my church for like a year and eight months, I stopped wearing trousers, I changed everything about me and his mother used to send me money. She was very happy with me because I changed her son`s life so when she came back from abroad and she saw me, she was not happy because of my skin colour.
When she saw that I had vitiligo, she gave me N3, 000 that I should hold it for her. She said she was going for a meeting, I could see it in her face that she was not pleased with me but I tried to keep calm. So around 9:30 pm, when she came back, she came with three family members and they said they are very grateful for everything I have done but she said I could not marry her son. That was the first time I cried bitterly. I went back to Abeokuta around 1 am. I couldn’t wait because I thought they might kill me before daybreak. I had been there around 2 pm; I was just wondering why they couldn’t inform me earlier. After three days, I went back to my normal lifestyle; most times I take myself out, dance alone just to make myself happy. I don’t wait for anyone to make me happy. My dad always taught me that if you wait for somebody to make you happy, they will turn their backs at you.
What do you think government can do?
Medically there is no cure for vitiligo but there are many drugs that can suppress it. Most of the drugs are costly, so if government can help in that area by providing these drugs and to the people outside, they should stop making us feel like lesser human beings, they should encourage us, they should let us feel we can be useful. I have a boss that people used to neglect because she has vitiligo; that was how she thought of starting the NGO and now she has been abroad more than 13 times.
Can the foundation not buy some of those drugs?
They can, but help is not coming from outside. Everybody has his or her problem, even those people that are rich; they are nurturing a lot of personal challenges. Moreover, people out there are not ready to help they are always looking for something else especially from women.
What do you see yourself doing in the nearest future?
I want to have a hospital that will specialize in treating vitiligo victims and I want to learn more about the condition. I want to know what works for each blood group so that each victim will know which drug to use.