Bookshelf: Last year, your second book, ‘I Wrote This for You’ was released. What’s the story behind the title?
Samira Haruna Sanusi: The reason why I named the book, ‘I Wrote This for You’ is because the whole book and everything I put in it were things I wished someone else said to me and things I wished I had heard. At the same time, it’s like you have been going through something and waiting for people to give you words of reassurance, but you don’t get it. So, when I titled the book, ‘I Wrote This for You’ I was actually referring to myself and saying it to other people as well. I am saying, I hope this brings you joy. When you open the book, you find out that the next thing I wrote after the title says, to the reader, I hope you find joy, I hope you keep it. So I am talking to other people, that I wrote this for you and I hope it brings everything good to you. But at the same time I am also talking to myself because they are all words I wish someone else had said to me.
Bookshelf: How would you describe the book?
Samira: I think it’s a memoir to some extent. But for a reader to know that, you have to know a little about me, my experiences, my trauma and the damage it has done to me. So, in that way it is a memoir.
Bookshelf: How different is it from your first book, ‘S is for Survivor’?
Samira: It’s different from ‘S is for Survivor’ because when I was writing the latter, every single thing was step-by-step about my life, what I went through within the span of seven years battling with Sickle Cell Anaemia. But in the case of ‘I Wrote This for You’, I’m still talking about myself, but with focus on what happened after the trauma. So that’s the overcoming, where the healing takes place, where the post-trauma stress disorder kicks in, and the search for identity past everything you have been through. It’s a kind of continuation. When you read the first book before the second you will feel as if you are continuing my story. But ‘I Wrote This for You’ also stands on its own because it’s a collection of prose, poetry and philosophical quotes and essays that talk about healing, overcoming, self-growth, self-love, my relationship with God and so on.
Bookshelf: What sort of effort did it take to write ‘I Wrote This for You’?
Samira: I didn’t have to conduct any research because they were things I experienced, things I saw in my family, my friends and society. It all comes back to me. I write things that are personal to me, things I have felt deeply and experienced. It’s the only way I know how to write.
Bookshelf: How would you describe the kind of feedback you get about your work, so far?
Samira: The feedback I received from my first book was really good. But it gave me a certain kind of identity that I wasn’t really happy with. In the book, yes, I survived and got cured and came out stronger, but it also left me feeling like a victim. It made people feel pity for me and I felt open and vulnerable with people walking around with my story. I want to take that power back, be more than just someone who went through a tough time. I want to show people that I am more than my struggle. At the same time, I want to remind people who see me as this strong person whose okay and doesn’t need help, that sometimes I am really struggling. The person, who goes out there, inspires and saves everyone, sometimes needs to be saved too. Just because you survived, and everything is over, doesn’t mean that the journey stops. You still have to deal with what you went through, the PTSD, the anxiety, insomnia, the thoughts in your head, not being sure of whom you are and what you want to do with the rest of your life. So, overcoming something is also a traumatic journey. First you have the trauma, and then the post-trauma journey, and you also have to recover, heal from that and decide where to go from there.
Bookshelf: What is your favourite part of ‘I Wrote This for You’ and why?
Samira: When I was sick, for the seven years I was fighting for my life, a lot of the attention was paid on my physical illness and wellbeing. I had 28 surgeries, hours of physiotherapy because I had to learn how to work all over again. So, all the doctors I saw were concerned about getting me well again, for me to walk and my body to function again. Very little attention was paid to my emotional, mental and psychological wellbeing, even though a lot of the hospital staff I was admitted in had social workers and psychologists, but I never really understood the need or importance of opening up about what I was going through. First of all, I was young and didn’t understand what was going on in my life. Second, I was raised as a strong Muslim, and I was raised to believe that Allah has a reason for your pain or purpose for your struggles. As a black woman, as an African woman, a Nigerian woman and a Hausa woman, you are supposed to be strong all the time even when you don’t feel so at all. I was going through this journey where I was alone and a thousand miles away, so I had to be strong for myself and my family back home.
So, for seven years I didn’t have time to break at all. I didn’t have time to be sad or lash out. After a while I just felt that when it’s all over I can be sad, but right now I can’t afford to be down or depressed because I had a job to do. ‘I Wrote This For You’ is my way of saying look, I am strong and I have survived, but it was hell and brutal. Sometimes I just want to tell someone, look at what happened to me, look at the damage. Can you make it go away, can you make it feel less heavy or drive the demons away? I want to remind people who are really struggling that I realise now that I made a mistake of not dealing with the emotional trauma while it was happening. I made a joke of it and thought that, if I can survive 28 surgeries, PTSD or depression has nothing on me. I made a joke about how, if I talk to my psychologist, he or she may probably need a psychologist afterward. Then I hit rock bottom, and when I did, I started to write ‘I Wrote This For You’. I realised that now I need help, I need to help myself before I can help others. I need to save myself and do this for me, and if I don’t I am going to self-destruct.
Bookshelf: Presently, what’s your daily routine like, since your successful surgery?
Samira: I run a foundation, Samira Sickle Cell Foundation, which focuses on advocacy that involves spreading awareness about the disease and providing aid to low income families living with the disease. So, we have an office where I go to daily and organise events of awareness and advocacy, community outreaches, partnerships and collaborations with hospitals that can help us care better for our Sickle Cell warriors. We have members in seven states in Nigeria who are responsible for helping us in our vision of caring for patients, helping them get access to blood donors, and those who can’t pay for hospitalisation bills. There’s also the aspect of organising community groups and support groups that provide a safe haven for people who can’t open up about what they are going through. So, me being an advocate and a humanitarian is a twenty-four-seven job, because even when I am not in the office, it’s either I am talking to somebody on the phone, replying messages, visiting people in hospitals, paying hospitalisation bills, discussing with my team on how to serve better and do better.
At night, I write and read a lot because I struggle with falling asleep. By the time I go to bed that is when the memories start coming. At such a time, I don’t like to be left alone or be in a place that is quiet, so I get lost in a book.