KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - In the Sudan a male dwarf is known by the word ‘bea’iw’, a reference to the shell inside the fruit of the indigenous doam tree. A female dwarf is called ‘bea’iwa and bea’iwat for the plural from both sexes.
There are more than 230 dwarfs in Khartoum State. They have interesting stories to tell. A beaming smile is the usual characteristic of any bea’iaw or bea’iwa one can come across. Another feature of this category is that they are met with love and sympathy wherever they went. They are energetic and exercise a high degree of self-satisfaction. Some of them say they feel if they did not have that bodily condition they would not have had that place in the hearts of people.
Every individual from this group seems to have a story, a tale, joke or even a calamity to speak about.
The Sudanese dwarfs (or bea’iwat) have organized themselves in the Sudanese Association of Dwarfs, based in Khartoum North, that operates within the Sudanese Institution of the People with Disabilities.
Previously they had their own club in the Mahdiyya suburb in which they used to assemble from the different corners of Khartoum for a get-together. The area’s children used to line up along the main road to greet and help them reach the club by carrying their bags and other belongings. Two deaf brothers from the area (Mohamed and Hafiz Abbas) used to carry these dwarfs on their backs down to the club, mistaking them for children. Efforts of the area’s youths to convince the deaf young men that dwarfs were grownups used to pass unheeded. The deaf brothers used to carry the dwarfs until they reached their destination, while the crowd was absorbed in laughter. And when their mother asked them why they carry the dwarfs used to reply in sign language that “these are too young to walk and it is a shame to let them walk in the blazing heat of the sun!”.
Sudanow Magazine has delved into the world of the dwarfs to learn how they live, how they think and what their expectations are.
Speaking about the Association’s objectives, Ms. Raydanya al-Zain, the Association’s Cultural Sector’s Chairwoman, said the category is “neglected and marginalized in most cases”.
She said “As dwarfs we seek to have our voice heard that every member of this category has a right to pursue a decent living, a right to work and a right to have a role in life. We want to enjoy our rights of citizenship, we want to mobilize the society to respond to our problems. We want to increase the dwarf’s self- confidence and we want to discover and nurture talents of this group. We want to shed light on the works of the dwarfs who are indeed an important category that has its effect in the society and that is affected by the society.
We cannot find suitable jobs. Among us there are intellectuals, university graduates and people with talent. Those who could not finish their education should get suitable working opportunities: They need shops where they can earn a living; there are engineers and lawyers among us. We need investment projects. Among us there are poor individuals who live in shacks and who need health insurance. We are considering a cultural week to energize our group through which we can send a message to the society.”
Ali Mohamed al-Tayyib al-Jamousi, is a university graduate. He works at an administrative unit in a media organization. He says he is married to two women and has children. He says he had been leading a normal life since childhood and received due care and attention from his family and school and work mates “though I don’t like to be treated with pity”.
He says he has a big position in the society around him and that “may be, if I were not a dwarf, I might not have found this position in the society, and could have stayed unnoticed.”
Ali recalls that as a university student he one day took a bus on a visit to some of his relatives. The bus was very crowded with passengers but he could find an empty seat. About to sit down, he noticed a woman standing in the bus passage. He summoned the woman to come and take the seat. She sat down and insisted that he sits on her lap, a request he turned down. Here the woman forced him to do as ordered while the crowd kept watching him in wonder and whenever he wanted to get up the woman would force him down, mistaking him for just a baby. To avoid this embarrassment he left the bus altogether.
One day he was walking near the University of Khartoum’s Faculty of Medicine. Trying to cross the road, a medicine female student gripped his hand and helped him to the other side of the road, blaming mothers “who neglect their children this way in the dangerous city roads!” The student had mistook Ali for a child that went astray from its mother who happened to be visiting a patient at the nearby radiology hospital. Reaching a crowd of women sitting near the hospital, the student pushed him towards them, urging them to be careful about their children. Ali very soon took to his heels to avoid further embarrassment.
Ms. Elham Abdelbagi al-Bashir, a university graduate, works part time with the telecom provider Zain. Born in 1994, Elham says she also has a dwarf brother.
Beside her telecom work, Elham is an actor, a designer and manufactures accessories. She had contested for the biannual Excellence and Creation Prize for the Persons with Disabilities, winning the second prize. She also joined a group of dwarfs in a play depicting the role and suffering of the dwarfs. The play’s theme had meant to draw public attention to the problems of the dwarfs and their need for decent means of living. ”The dwarfs have many talents in many domains and we hope to be able to take part in contests outside the country,” she says.
She says she is loved by her family members.” That is why they take me with them in their outings, because they feel I create a pleasant atmosphere around me wherever I went,” she says.
She said one day she was talking to her fiancé on the telephone. He was her cousin and was a normal person. When she took his pardon to go fix the room curtains, he said jokingly: ”Curtains? How would you be able to fix them?”
“I was very sad for his response. Then I brought a barrel and stood on it to fix the curtains and videoed what I did and sent it to him,” she said.
Elham says she is never hopeless, always ready to overcome hurdles with resolve. “I never walk back, because hesitation means you are not complete and I don’t like to be incomplete,” she says.
She remembers that the day she was admitted to the secondary school in a city far from her village she was apprehensive that she would not find the care she used to in her village. When the school teacher entered the classroom and ordered all the girls to stand up, she did so. Because she was very short, the teacher rebuked her for not standing up. “To show her, I stood on my chair and recognizing my size, the teacher apologized and kept apologizing to me whenever we met,” she said.
When she joined the university, the university gatekeepers used to absolve her from showing her ID at the entrance. As time passed she used to leave her ID back home, because there was no need for it as every member of the guards knew her. But one day a new guard who never saw her before stopped her for the ID and when she said she did not have it with her, he ordered her to go back from where she came. Because it was examination day, she was upset and could not know what to do. But the university’s chancellor, who happened to be passing by, saw the scene and ordered the guard to let her in. ”Everybody knows Elham and she does not need to show her ID,” he told the guard.
Baha’addin (40) has two dwarf nieces. He remembers that one day he took a bus with his sister. His sister carried a big plastic bag with her. A woman sitting in the bus took pity on him and put him on her lap. Here he called his sister to give him the bag. Hearing his voice, the woman was taken aback, stood up, pushed him off and yelled: “Dear me! You are a man with moustaches!”
What Science Says:
Dr. Abdallah al-Toam, a university professor in clinical biochemistry said the phenomenon is attributable to a deficiency in growth hormone. It is not hereditary. It is a hormone malfunction in the pituitary gland that excretes this hormone. If the hormone is excreted in excess before puberty, the person may grow up very huge, a giant. And if the hormone is released in small quantities he can be so small. If treated at the right time all these problems can be treated medically.
He, however, maintains that there are certain genes that determine the tallness and shortness of a human being. Intermarriage within the same clan causes such problems. “There is a difference between the dwarf and the short person. Shortness is either a hereditary or environmental problem. Dwellers of mountainous regions, for example, are usually short in order to cope with their environment.” He said
Dr. al-Toam said the dwarf is a normal person with normal properties and senses. But it is the society that may cause him to suffer psychologically. A dwarf may marry a normal person and bear sound children “but dwarfs usually suffer deficiency in some of their internal organs, such as the kidneys, the heart and the liver that cause early death. For instance they may grow smaller kidneys that prevent them from getting rid of toxics,” said Prof. al-Toam.
He deplored the fact that the dwarfs do not take due care of their health condition. “Medical follow up can help the dwarf live longer,” he said.
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