This morning I met a girl named Fatima sitting on a pavement around the CMS - Marina area of Victoria Island Lagos.
What caught my attention even though I had a 9:00 appointment to meet was her attempt to stay 'hidden' - inconspicuous though she was in plain view. You see, Fatima is a quadruple amputee and like her friends who were positioned not far from her, she had come out early to beg for alms.
As I sat down beside her to speak with her, a man passing by shouted at me saying "don't feel any pity for her, it is their people that are killing our people in the North, they are evil and deserve no mercy..." He went on saying terrible things. A small crowd began to gather around, so I asked him "who are their people and who are our people? Have you met her? Have you seen her? Have you noticed that this girl has lost her legs and hands because of words and thoughts like 'our people and their people'?" He quietly walked away as the crowd began to disperse.
Fatima then told me she graduated from a polytechnic in the Northern part Nigeria, she had a job and was able to pay her rent and sustain herself until she lost her parents, siblings and her limbs to a bomb explosion.. She found herself in Lagos somehow and now lives with a woman who provides shelter for persons living with similar disabilities with the condition that they must all go out to beg for alms daily.
"I just want people to see me as a human being, not as a freak, not throw money at me while passing by, not pity me but to see me! I just want people to see me!" Those were the words she kept repeating as tears streamed down her face.
I left her knowing my life would never remain the same again. Her words touched me in a way that I did not know I could be touched. I feel especially sad because I left her earlier than I would have loved to plus I don't know if I would ever see her again, she has no phone and she doesn't know the address of the place she stays. She also said that they are moved daily to different locations by their benefactor.
I have reflected on this experience all day as I suspect I will for a very long time. Sometimes the best gift we could receive is the gift of a listener and a witness to our lives - our struggles and pains and victories!
We must learn - make a conscious effort to put the HUMAN before nationality, ethnicity, disabilities, religious and personal belief systems, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. That is the only way we can fight for humanity.