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Childhood Lost:
The Sad Story Of The ‘Gorilla Girl’ Of Diwaniya

Manar al-Zubaidi
It’s another indication of Iraqi society’s general intolerance for its handicapped members: The children in her village throw stones at her. And her family is too poor to get this 3-year-old the medical help she needs.
12.04.2018  |  Diwaniya
 (photo: احمد الشيباني )
(photo: احمد الشيباني )

For the past year, Hawra Musalam has barely left her house. She sits in a courtyard, talking to her doll, and it seems the toy is her only friend. The 3-year-old worries that if she leaves the house, then the other children in her village in the Hamza district in Diwaniya, will harass her.

The girl needs a number of specialized operations. She also needs a psychiatrist and a paediatrician.

The other children here call her “the gorilla”. This is because she has a skin condition called Large Congenital Melanocytic Nevus, or LCMN for short. It is akin to a giant, black mole or dark birthmark. Instead of just appearing on one part of the skin, an LCMN covers large parts of the body. It can also involve the growth of hair.

In Musalam’s case, the LCMN starts at her neck and covers her back, shoulders and part of her chest. Parts are also covered in dark hair. Musalam was born like this and it was only when she was two years old, that her mother first took her to a doctor. The family survives on the father’s pension; he was captured during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1990s and is now in poor health. Every time Musalam went to the doctor, her mother had to borrow money.


“When she comes with me to the marketplace or when we go to the doctor she insists on wearing long, thick sleeved dresses and a long veil,” says her mother, who worries what will become of her child as she gets older. “Otherwise she won’t go out at all.”

“The girl needs a number of specialized operations,” says local dermatologist, Nabeel al-Hamzawi, who works at Diwaniya hospital. “She also needs a psychiatrist and a paediatrician to take care of her before and after the surgery.”

There is also potential for the LCMN to develop further problems, growing deeper into the little girl’s skin and for it to become cancerous.

Musalam’s sister is just seven years old but already she too has learned to cope with this problem. Ruqaya says she used to urge her sister to leave the house and try and play with other children, to live a more normal life.

But one day last summer, when the sisters went to get ice cream they were surrounded by other children who began to throw stones at them and call out that the gorilla girl had come to eat them. The shop owner intervened and brought the siblings inside. “From that day on I decided not to take her into town with me, for her own protection,” Ruqaya says, “but it makes me very sad.”

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