She has a tattoo on her arm which she has had since childhood. She doesn’t fully understand what it means, but every girl in the Yi minority receives this tattoo between the ages of nine and twelve.
Sugaga was the baby of her family, with three older brothers and three older sisters. Her family were farmers, so she and her siblings spent their childhoods working with their parents rather than attending school. When Sugaga turned 12, she was allowed to join her parents in the field; prior to that, she performed the easier farming job of caring for the family livestock of pigs and cattle.
The family never ate the livestock – they were used to work in the fields – and when they died, they were too old to eat. Instead, Sugaga and her family ate congee made from buckwheat and wild wheat with one or two small potatoes, or sometimes other wild vegetables that grew on their farm. Every meal was the same.
Sugaga’s mother didn’t sleep at night. She spent her nights mending and making clothes for her children after working all day in the field. Sugaga’s mother would assess her children’s clothes to determine who was most desperate for new or mended clothes. She made all of the family’s clothes from scratch. She would start by getting wool from the lambs to make into yarn, then use metal needles to weave and knit the yarn to make clothes. It would take about two years to make one dress, so the younger children wore the mended hand-me-downs from their older siblings, often still with plenty of holes.
Sugaga had an arranged marriage at the age of 18 and later had three children. She was diagnosed with leprosy when she was about 25 years old, and soon after her diagnosis, her husband divorced her and took their children. She moved to the leprosy village in April of the year she turned 27, and in October of that same year, her husband died. Her children were left with her mother-in-law, who in turn, passed them onto her daughter, the children’s aunt. However, when the aunt married, she sent the children to a far off village and Sugaga has not heard from them since.
In the leprosy village, she got married again to a leprosy patient and they had a daughter. When they married, they moved to a small village nearby where they only had one neighbor. This neighbor was also a leprosy patient. They were all very poor so they always tried to help each other and all worked very hard. Their neighbor gave Sugaga and her family some land for free so they could grow rice and corn to earn a living. Sugaga’s daughter was unable to go to school because there were no schools in the area. Instead, she was responsible for their cows and goats.
Around 20 years ago, her second husband died and she decided to move back to the leprosy village because she found she was slowly becoming paralyzed and needed help. Gradually, she was unable to move her legs and her bones started to become detached. She was unable to work due to her disability, so Dr Yang started taking care of her, and in October of 2011, he became her third husband.
Her life has changed a lot and is much better now than it was before, and for that, she is very happy. She is fortunate enough to have a doctor as a husband who always takes care of her. At night before she falls asleep, she feels very sad as she reflects on her hard life. She can never forget her earlier life because it was so tough. She wishes there was a medicine that would erase the bad memories. She feels sorry for her own life and dreams of having a better one. She often wonders why she was chosen to have a life like this and to have contracted by leprosy. At the end of the day, she blames it all on her poor fate.
translation and editing by Georgie Reading