Hadiatou was born with a cleft lip, a condition so repugnant and frightening to the people in her village that they believed she should not be given a name. Even her father felt this way and refused to allow her to have the traditional baby naming ceremony.
Fatumata, the baby’s mother, remembers these early days all too well. “Ousaman, my husband, had a stone heart that made me very unhappy. I knew that God loved our daughter, so why didn’t he?” Even some sympathetic neighbors implored Ousaman to support his newborn daughter. But Ousaman refused to budge, forcing Fatumata to make a painful decision. She would hold her own ceremony to name her child. “It was very difficult to go against my husband, but our daughter was a human being, and I loved her. No matter her condition, she would have a name.” Fatumata prayed about a good name for her daughter, choosing “Hadiatou,” which means well-loved. She prayed that the love in this name would one day bring Hadiatou the healing she needed.
Despite her cleft lip, Hadiatou was a happy child who touched the hearts of her two brothers, Ousaman and Mamadou, with her unique smile. Fatumata recalls, “Hadiatou’s brothers always thought that Hadiatou was so courageous. They played with her and sang her songs to help her go to sleep.”
Hadiatou, true to her name of being well-loved, also softened her father’s heart. According to Fatumata, “There was something in Hadiatou’s courage that made Ousaman feel differently. While it still pained him to have a daughter with a deformity, he developed a grudging affection for her spirit. Instead of accepting insults about Hadiatou, he would speak up for her.”
While she prayed for God to help Hadiatou, Fatumata admits she was doubtful. “I did not know what caused Hadiatou’s cleft lip. No one in the village had a condition like this, so we all believed it was something that could not be fixed. I could not imagine that there were people who could treat something like this.”
When Hadiatou was seventeen, something quite unexpected happened. Samba, a fine young farmer she met through her brother Mamadou, fell head over heels in love with her. Samba was drawn to Hadiatou’s kindness and her sense of humor. He saw great beauty in her eyes, and he knew Hadiatou was the wife God had made for him. Fatumata felt a stirring of hope for her daughter. If God sent Hadiatou a husband, maybe he would send her healing too!
When Hadiatou and Samba were blessed with a chubby baby boy, they talked about having a very special baby naming ceremony – to help make up for what Hadiatou missed. But suddenly, plans for the naming ceremony were put on joyful hold. Samba’s cousin Manay, three villages away, confided to Samba that their two-month-old son, Bubacar, had a funny lip like Hadiatou’s, but that a hospital ship in Conakry fixed it. Immediately, Samba borrowed the money needed for Hadiatou, her mother, and the baby to go to Conakry to Mercy Ships. Hadiatou and Fatumata were first taken to the HOPE Center for the weekend, until Hadiatou could be examined first thing Monday morning. Fatumata was overwhelmed by the reception they received.
On Monday, Hadiatou was given an appointment for surgery. And, by the end of the week, her cleft lip was repaired and on the mend. After two weeks of tender post-op care, she was ready to return home. As Hadiatou left the hospital for the last time, Fatumata turned to her and said, “Praise God for this miracle. Thanks to Mercy Ships we will have the most beautiful baby naming ceremony ever . . . with the most beautiful mother there is!”
Written by Joanne Thibault
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photographs by Debra Bell and Bright Effowe