Okegbala, in Nigeria, is a settlement made up of three large hamlets and a leprosy hospital. The residents are there because they, or their parents or grandparents are affected by leprosy – originally moving to be near the leprosy hospital. Here are portraits of three of the residents, all affected by leprosy, the last of whom is blind.
I’ve got an exhibition of the photos I took in Nepal and Nigeria coming up (details tba), and among some of the photos will be some landscape ones to give a wider view of the places these people live. Here’s a sneak preview.
This photo above is of Khokana leprosy colony just outside Kathmandu in Nepal. It’s seclusion from other settlements is surprisingly blatant in such a crowded area of the country.
At first glance this could be a village on an African beach a stones throw away from the Indian ocean; dry sand and palm trees are not the first thing you associate with Nepal. To the locals however, the sun and dust just mean a prolonging of the drought… when I took this photo they hadn’t had rain in 7 months.
On many of my evenings at Lalgadh Leprosy Services Centre in Nepal I climbed up the water tower to watch the sunset. Because of the dust the sunsets weren’t at all dramatic, just a dull red ball that faded out before it even dropped below the horizon. This is the opposite bank of the dried-up river Lalgadh rests on. Once the Monsoon comes however, the river carries the melted ice from the Himalayas and it becomes a churning torrent that is extremely dangerous to approach.
This is Zuma Rock, a great monolith that is Nigeria’s version of Ayer’s Rock in Australia. This was one of the first photos I took in Nigeria as I was driven from Abuja where I landed to Minna in Niger state where The Leprosy Mission HQ was.
This is Okegbala leprosy community in Kwara state where I stayed for 10 days. Many houses proudly stand their aerials, despite not having a television or electricity for 6 months since a transformer at the local power station blew. The government has still not fixed it.
I only got to visit Oyi for a few days, and because I wasn’t able to stay in the village I stayed a few miles away in a hotel with a wonderful hill behind it. I was half way up when I noticed this boy following me. It shows just how green and lush the grass was around it.
I visited Kuta in Niger state for only a few hours. I saw these two boys passing their time by pushing each other around in wheelbarrows.
I walked into this room in Okegbala Hospital, Kwara State, Nigeria and the light coming through the one window was so clear I thought I’d stay here for a little while, photographing the doctor examining his patients. This woman was the first patient. She had a few light skin lesions on her arms and the doctor looked them over. I took this photo as he told her what I believe she probably knew already: all the signs pointed to her having leprosy. Later lab tests confirmed this. It takes 7-10 years for the leprosy bacterium to reveal itself in a body through symptoms such as skin lesions and areas of numbness, so even if she hadn’t been around people directly infect with leprosy in the last 7 years, it may well have been contracted well before then.
Mohammed Damargo kindly invited me into his yard to listen to his story and photograph him before his son took him to market on a trailer so he could spend all day begging. He was 16 when he was diagnosed with a disease some 40 years ago by a native doctor. He took the prescribed treatment which was a mixture of pounded leaves and dirty water left to infuse together for 7 days. After 10 years of taking this medecine but without improvement a European man came along who immediately diagnosed the disease as leprosy and came back the next day with drugs to take. He took the medecine for 1 and a half years before moving to Kuta, the current area he’s in which used to have a clinic nearby. He’s lived here for the past 30 years. In that time, due to skin lesions and damaged nerves parts of his body have become infected and he has lost one lower arm, most of his hand on the other arm, all his toes and much of his face has sunken in making his words hard to distinguish. He finds hard to eat anything except a bowl of dried maize off the cob. Each day his son takes him to work in the wheelbarrow (shown) where he begs. It is impossible for him to do any other work and he gets no benefits as we might in this country.