My name is Margaret Wagio. In 2011, I was 23 and fresh from college when I started noticing some white patches on my back. After a short while, the patches multiplied and I decided to seek medical attention.
The examining doctor concluded that my body lacked vitamins and prescribed some medications. However, the speckles didn't go away. If anything, they gradually began to spread to different parts of the body such as the thighs and abdomen.
“After studying for my diploma in hotel management, I did my attachment in Mombasa. During this time, the condition exacerbated. The patches began emerging in places that I could no longer hide and upon seeking another doctor’s opinion, it was discovered that I had vitiligo.
“I had never heard of such a condition or seen anybody with it but my husband had mentioned that he had met people who had experienced the same. It didn’t make sense to me then.
“I got a job after the training and by then, it had become full blown. I could sleep and wake up with more spots. It was such a difficult stage of my life. As they continued to increase, my employer was taking note. One day, he informed me that he couldn't continue having me working for the hotel. He was concerned that as the fresh juice attendant, I would infect the food or customers. Furthermore, he had had enough with the customer stares. Notably, vitiligo is not contagious. The more I hunted for a job, the more rejections I got.
“In 2014, I resolved to come back to Nairobi. While on my journey back, I met my father at Mtito Andei, where he used to work, and upon seeing me, he was beyond shocked. Because of the condition and the pain that came with it, he developed high blood pressure which he manages to date.
“On my journey back, I kept wondering how I would face my first born son who I had left in the care of my mother. He had seen me without a blemish when going to Mombasa and here I was, returning home a stranger to him. He was five years old then and I recall him pleading with me not to attend visiting days in school because he didn’t want the other pupils asking him about his mother. That stands out as my lowest moment.
“My mother, who was just shocked, suggested that I don't go home to keep me away from questions and stares from relatives and friends. Some people said it was skin bleaching gone wrong while others whispered that I had been cursed or bewitched. It was also a tough period for my husband who had to stand up for me numerous times. To be honest, I had several moments of despair and questioning God. What do I tell people who knew me before going to Mombasa or my former classmates? How do I explain a condition that I didn't know much about myself?
“Through that period, I lost almost all the friends I had. Thankfully, my husband drew me even closer and has supported me throughout it all. To avoid the stares, crude comments and the many questions that came my way, I stayed indoors for about three years. My family would go out and get all the meals and anything that I wanted. During the period, I became pregnant with my second born. I had many people visit me at the hospital after delivery only to learn later that most wanted to see if my son looked like me. He was born in perfect health.
“Sometime last year, a friend visited and encouraged me to get out of the house and even recommended me to a potential employer who was impressed by my resume. He agreed to give me a chance.
“Still a novice at the new workplace, I met the founder of Vitiligo Ambassadors, Wangui Njee who has continued to empower and mentor me. Through her, I have met hundreds of people living with the condition. She pushed me to accept myself and I can say that at 32 years now, I am at perfect peace with God, myself and the humanity at large.
WORRYING WON'T HELP
“Through her guidance and my husband’s support, I started offering outside catering services and I have a number of people who swear by my food. I also offer my expertise at Pork Pit, a restaurant in Ruaka, Kiambu County.
“I have discovered two things: that most people are hypocritical, and that I am not as reserved as I have always thought. Nowadays, I am brave enough to step out and talk to people. When I get stares from strangers, I take the step of engaging them in a conversation and explaining what vitiligo is all about.
“I encourage people with the condition or any other to have hope and be positive as no one knows what tomorrow holds. Be open about what you are going through – the more people understand, the more you get accepted. Also, find something that you can do, because worrying or crying won’t help. For parents with children with the condition, it’s important to shower them with love and instil confidence in them.
“Often, on reflection, I wonder why I let myself wallow in pain when I still have everything within me. I have found a new way to define beauty and no matter the social construct of what beautiful is, I am beautiful.”