We tend to come across a lot of people every day, but do we ever wonder about the stories they hide behind their smiles?
Meet Sharmeen Merali, an ever-smiling girl, full of compliments and love for everyone. Who despite fighting a fatal disease, having over 20 surgeries done, and struggling every day with her insecurities, today manages to stand tall and boost an exceptional career and an even beautiful personality. We caught up with Sharmeen to know a little more about her journey
Tell us a little about your journey and what makes it different?
Sharmeen: When I was born I was diagnosed with Golden Harr syndrome, which was a very rare condition. It was so rare that the doctors had no hope for my survival and at the most gave me 6 months to live! For those who did survive the 6 months window were given till 15 years latest and If I did live till then I would not be able to talk, hear, walk or literally do anything.
So 29 eventful years later, with a techno- savvy hearing aid, one unique blue eye and a slight limp, I have presented over 50 talk shows with children; I am a writer, proof-reader and am currently working at Tanzania’s first escape game venture.
My journey has had many ups and downs, from being bullied at upper school in England, falling in love too deep and being dumped to feeling insecure around my family and friends. However I continue to fight my way through it with the support of my two sets of amazing parents, hilarious siblings and their fun-loving kids, a caring family and encouraging friends and most importantly my best friend God; who always helps me despite my constant complaining.
You mentioned you have been through multiple surgeries, can you tell us a little about them, and how have they affected the way you feel about yourself?
Sharmeen: When I was born I was born with 11 deformities and my heart and inner system like kidneys, pancreas and stomach are on the reverse side and I also had a hole in my heart; that healed by itself miraculously. Due to this, I was on a life support machine.
A team of 17 doctors and surgeons had no hope for my survival as my condition was very rare. They suggested switching off the machine so I would not suffer. After much deliberation and consulting our priest who gave us a go ahead considering Islam does not allow this, my parents and family decided it was the best option as I was in pain and was in the machine for two weeks. So they switched off the machine and after about 6 hours I started breathing on my own, which became an instant miracle and that, is why till now I am known as a ‘living miracle’ or people say I have ‘Golden Heart Syndrome’.
Due to the syndrome, I have had about 20 surgeries, mostly on my face. I used to feel more insecure, especially with the aftercare of bandages and scars. But I should be honest, I loved going to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London; it is the world’s famous hospital for children. The doctors and nurses were amazing, my ward or better known as Tiger Ward had a good collection of Disney films and the TV show; friends.
I remember my last surgery was quite a complicated one, it was 7 hours long and I ended up in ICU as I lost two pints of blood during the surgery. After that my face was swelled up for months and I used to stay at home because I was so embarrassed about the way I looked. Naturally once my face calmed down, I was happy with the progress; it was a jaws surgery.
Last year I was in England and I followed up with my hospital appointments and one last possible surgery. All thanks to the Almighty Lord, everything was well with my health and I decided to not do the last surgery because I have come to terms with the way I look. If I would change myself further, I wouldn’t be Sharmeen Merali.
You are becoming a prominent figure in the media industry, what inspired you to get into the field and how hard was it to initially get into the field given your condition?
Sharmeen: Growing up I was always worried about the way children would react when they would see me, some would stare and some would laugh. As much as I got upset, I could not blame them because if I were in their place I would do the same.
So coming on TV was something that never crossed my mind. I used to work for IBNTV; an Islamic TV station in Dar es Salaam, during my second year the team was looking for someone to present a talk show with children and they asked me and of course I refused. However they convinced me to give it a try and it happened. I owe my team a lot for never giving up on me and being patient with me. My insecurity of being with children went away as I realized that I could be cool as them and they loved me for who I was and not what I looked like. I will be honest though, when I would edit my show, I would be surprised that I could actually present a show knowing so many people even worldwide were watching me.
Media has a set image for beauty. Everyone wants to see a tall, skinny woman on television, how do you feel such preconceived notions of beauty affect the self-esteem of women in general?
Sharmeen: I feel over the years, media has branded long legs, perfect figure and perfect hair as beauty. For someone like me who is short and hefty can be a buzz-kill, in fact there comes a point when you feel alienated. This is wrong as I believe that every one of us is beautiful in our own way; beauty should not have a specific definition. Women are a blessing to humankind and should be appreciated regardless of their height, weight or skin color. Sometimes constant exposure to this type of media makes it difficult to accept reality. I currently work at Escape Experience Tanzania in Oysterbay, whereby my job description means interacting with people. This is a tough mission for me because I get tongue-tied especially when it comes to talking to boys or men. I feel you have to physically be beautiful just to be noticed or heard. Sometimes I wonder how I made it this far considering how insecure I can be. All in all, I think the media should change the notion of beauty and emphasize more on the personality of the person; a beautiful hearts leads to a beautiful soul. Just the body doesn’t have to be beautiful even an act of kindness or charity should be portrayed as ultimate beauty.
Do you have a message for the Super Women of East Africa?
Sharmeen: I have always been advised to love myself so that others can love me too, I must be honest, it is not easy but we have to try right? So to all you superwomen out there fall in love with yourself every now and then and you will live happily ever after!
If anyone wishes to get in touch with Sharmeen, can contact her through: firstname.lastname@example.org