Maryam Umar wins BBC Hausa’s women’s short story writing competition for 2020

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“Rai da Cuta” (Life & sickness) by Maryam Umar has won this year’s BBC Hausa short story contest for women.  Maryam  is a 20 year old student studying law at Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto.

Umar tells the story of Azima whose husband returns from a trip exhibiting all the symptoms of Covid-19. Although his wife is heavily pregnant, he refuses to isolate himself and remains in denial of the disease. Azima locks him in a room but soon finds out she has already contracted Covid-19 from her husband. This leads to the loss of her baby and a long battle for her life.

The first runner up in this year’s competition is from Surayya Zakari Yahaya  titled “Numfashin Siyasata” or “My Political Life”. This is the story of a young woman who ventures into politics to save the people of her village from underdevelopment. But she is turned down by the same people she is keen on saving simply because she is a woman. Her determination to represent her conservative people leads to the death of her parents and she almost loses her own life.

 The story that came third is by Rufaida Umar Ibrahim titled “Farar Kafa” which loosely translates to “The One Who Brings Bad Luck”. This is the story of Ramatu who was tagged ‘the bringer of bad luck’ after her newly wedded husband experiences losses shortly after their marriage. His business crumbles due to poor financial decisions and his small shop burns to the ground. He divorces her because he believes she is the cause of his bad luck. Her second husband dies just a week after their wedding and this causes more trouble for Ramatu.

 In its fifth year, the contest was introduced to give female writers a platform to tell and share their stories.  Editor of the Hausa Service, Aliyu Tanko says: “I’m thrilled that this year’s awards were won by very young writers which show how our primary targets have embraced this competition. Many writers have been empowered by these awards over the last five years which is a testimony of how we value our young female audiences”.

Bilkisu Salisu Ahmed Funtua, the Lead Judge said “To me all the writers are winners. We see a sharp change in the themes and writing styles from what is typically seen in Hausa women’s writing. But Maryam Umar’s ‘Rai da Cuta’ is outstanding.  This writer was able to incorporate wit and humour in what could have easily been the saddest story. She brought to fore front the nonchalance of our people towards the coronavirus pandemic in a unique style.”

Maryam said “I’ve always loved books. As a little girl I would hide to read books. Growing up, I would assemble my friends and tell them about a book I read, but in actuality it’s a story that I made up in my head. I’ve always been someone who loves to solve problems. I enjoy finding solutions in innovative ways. Then I found the internet- the easiest way to deliver my message. That’s how I began writing.”

 Last year’s winner Safiyya Ahmad said: “Winning the competition has changed my life tremendously. I’ve been able to enrol in a nursing school which is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to be a nurse and I’m on my way to achieving that.  I’ve also always wanted to sponsor my mother to travel to Mecca for pilgrimage, which has been her life-long dream, and I have fulfilled that for her with the Hikayata prize.”

Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye, Head of BBC West Africa says:  “We are pleased to be supporting this competition. It is so important to provide female Hausa writers with this platform to tell their stories. This year’s winner highlights a story that everyone can relate to in these unprecedented times.”  

The winner and runners up will be awarded their prizes on Friday 4th December 2020.

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