A young Muslim wife and mother of two small sons, she had been trained as a seamstress. Her leadership skills and ability to connect with people helped her to run a successful shop where several young people were learning to sew. But she stopped working when customers shunned her because of the growth. Verbal abuse from those around her made her feel ashamed, and she withdrew into the house. However, her husband, her sons, and a couple of neighbors continued to be supportive.
She tried traditional African medicine at home, but that didn’t work. The tumor kept growing, and those around her expected her to die. Desperate to find someone to remove the growth, she sold her sewing machine to pay for a trip to see a witch doctor. She was gone for six months. Her family thought she would not return. When she did, she found her husband had taken a second wife, her room had been rented out, and she had to sleep on the couch – a rejected woman.
Still hopeful, M’mai went to a clinic run by missionaries Jonathan and Anja Erickson in N’Zao, Guinea. Jonathan has brought many patients to Mercy Ships in the past, and he knew volunteer surgeon Dr. Tony Giles well. M’mai sent a photo of herself to Dr. Tony and went to the screening that he and his wife, Ann, were holding in the area. He referred her to the Africa Mercy for surgery.
Jonathan drove M’mai and ten other referred patients the 1200 km to the hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He stayed with them for a month – providing translation, encouragement, and spiritual comfort.
The volunteer doctors removed the growth from M’mai’s mouth, and she anxiously awaited the therapy that followed. Therapist Sally Peet gave her exercises to practice several times a day. Determined to have a normal face again, M’mai did the exercises faithfully, all day. The next morning, Sally was happily surprised to see how much the swelling of M’mai’s lips had gone down. “My star patient!” she joyfully announced. “She’s so diligent and does her exercises! What an amazing transformation!” And, indeed, the transformation was amazing! Even M’mai was transfixed when she saw her “new” face in the mirror.
There were other transformations, as well. Her confidence returned, she was ready to be sociable once more, and smiles played easily across her lips. While she was recuperating, she spent some time in a Bible study and decided she would give her life to Jesus, saying she didn’t want to return to her old life.
“I would like to start up my sewing shop again,” she said. Her time on the Africa Mercy had not only restored her physical life, but had also opened up a new spiritual life, as well.
She will return to the ship in September for more surgery, if she needs it, and will then be ready for a new beginning at her tailor shop.
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell and Claire Ross