When I heard rumours of a new contender for the world’s tallest man in northern Ghana, I set out to find out if it was true. The only problem? Measuring him.
A local hospital in northern Ghana told 29-year-old Sulemana Abdul Samed during one of his recent check-ups that he had reached the height of 9 ft 6in (2.89m).
This would make him the tallest man in the world, but there was a catch – the rural clinic could not be sure of his height because it did not have the correct measuring tools.
Diagnosed with gigantism a few years ago, the young man was attending a monthly appointment to deal with the complications of living as a giant when he was asked to stand straight against a measuring rod.
A shocked nurse told him: “You’ve grown taller than the scale.”
Better known to everyone by his nickname Awuche, which means “Let’s Go” in Hausa, he was bemused by the spectacle he was causing.
He was not surprised to hear he was taller, given he has never stopped growing – but it caused consternation for the staff, who were not prepared for such a scenario.
The duty nurse called out to her colleague, who in turn called out to another for help. Before long a group of nurses and health assistants gathered to solve the puzzle of determining his height.
One suggested they find a pole and use it as an extension above their stick to measure his height – and this is how they arrived at their estimate.
When I first came across Awuche a few months ago when travelling in northern Ghana, where his fame had spread across the area’s grasslands, I did not have a measuring tape on me to verify his height.
So in order to settle the matter – and armed with a 16ft measuring tape – I returned to the village of Gambaga last week.
The plan was to have him lean against a wall, mark it by the crown of his head and then determine his height using the measuring tape.
“The way they measure me, I cannot say everything is perfect,” Awuche admitted – happy with my plan to get an exact measurement.
He turned out to be taller than most of the houses in his neighbourhood, but after a good search we found a suitable building with a high-enough wall.
He took off his shoes – large slip-ons specially made from car tyres and nailed together for him by a local handyman as he has been unable to find shoes to fit him.
One of his neighbours clambered up on a wooden stool to reach Awuche’s height so he could mark the wall with a piece of charcoal.
After verifying the line, we stretched out the measuring tape firmly from the marked line to the ground as Awuche looked on in anticipation.
“Awuche, the measuring tape reads 7ft 4in,” I said.
Wearing his inimitable smile, he replied: “Wow, so what does it mean?”
“Well, the tallest man alive is 8ft 2.8in tall, he is barely one foot taller than you.”
I was referring to 40-year-old Sultan Kösen, who lives in Turkey and holds the current Guinness World Record.
“I’m still growing tall. Who knows, maybe one day I may get to that height too,” Awuche remarked – not at all upset by the discrepancy with the figure given to him by the hospital.
“Every three months of four months I grow… If you’ve not seen me for three months or four and you see me, you’d realised I have increased,” he explains.
This increase in height started to become noticeable when he was 22 years old and living in the capital, Accra.
Awuche had moved there to try his luck in the city, where one of his brothers lived, after finishing secondary school.
He was working at a butchers, saving money to take lessons at a driving school.
But he woke up one morning in confusion: “I realised my tongue had expanded in my mouth to the extent that I could not breath [properly],” he recounts.
He visited a local pharmacy to get some medication, however days later he realised every other part of his body had started increasing in size.
When family and friends from his village visited the city, they would all remark on his growth spurt and it was at this point he realised he was gradually turning into a giant.
He began to tower over everyone – and he sought medical help as the growth brought other complications.
He has been left with an abnormally curved spine, one of the prominent symptoms of his condition, Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting the body’s connective tissues.
It results in abnormally long limbs.
More serious complications involve heart defects.
Doctors say he needs a surgical procedure in his brain to stop the growth.
But Ghana’s public healthcare insurance cannot cover this, providing only for basic treatment.
For each hospital visit he must still raise about $50 (£40).
His health problems eventually forced him to return to his home village six years ago and give up his dreams of becoming a driver.
“I was planning to go to driving school, but even when I shift the seat back, I can’t hold the steering wheel… I can’t stretch my leg because my knee will knock the wheel.”
He is now living with his brother – and gets by after setting up a small business selling mobile phone credits.
His height has also curtailed his social life.
“I used to play football like every other young man, I was athletic but now I cannot even walk short distances,” he explained.
But Awuche does not let his problems get him down. He is full of soul as his tall slim frame weaves through the dusty paths of the village – smiling as people call out to him.
He is a bit of a local celebrity.
A group of elderly people sitting by a shed exchange pleasantries, children wave, some women come up for a hug and share jokes with him.
Some people want to take selfies with him – even strangers come up to ask if he is the giant they have seen on social media.
“I usually will say: ‘Yes come closer’ – we stand and take nice pictures,” Awuche says.
He is most grateful to his family for their emotional support, saying that he knows of no other relatives, including his three brothers, who show any sign of having his condition.
“None of them are tall, I am just the tallest man.”
He would love to get married and have children one day but wants to first concentrate on sorting out his health.
His first priority is to try and raise money for plastic surgery to deal with a serious skin complaint on one leg, ankle and foot caused by the excess growth of the limb.
But looking at his bandaged toes, Awuche refuses to be disheartened by his predicament.
“That is how Allah chose it for me, I am OK. I don’t have a problem with the way God created me.”