I am not often compelled to write about an issue I care about deeply. I prefer to go out there and do something about it, because as much as writing helps to get things off your chest, sometimes you feel as though you are hiding from action with words. I don’t want to blab too much without getting to the point so I will stop going around in circles.
I watched a documentary called ‘Africa Investigates – The Spell of the Albino’ on Al Jazeera last Friday, during a coffee break at work. This documentary is old and I am surprised I am only learning about it in 2012 when it was filmed some time in 2011. In this documentary, a Tanzanian journalist and undercover Ghanaian reporter investigate the rising numbers of deaths and physical assaults against albinos in Tanzania. Their limbs either cut off from corpses or from living humans, are given to witch doctors who grind the dried flesh and bones for special potions. These potions it is claimed, can bring you riches and good fortune. A small-scale gold miner even confirmed that taking an albino bone into the mines had made people richer, and as soon as he earned enough he would buy one.
An arm cut from the elbow can provide a poor family with as much money as they would normally earn in a year. As a result some parents are going as low as supervising the live slaughter of their albino children’s body parts to feed their families. Tears rolled down my face as I heard a young boy describe how his father ate dinner with the strangers who later on made him spread his fingers on the door frame and went ahead to chop three of them off with a machete. Anger does not begin to describe how I feel because in order for this to stop so many issues existing in these communities would have to be rectified. Because of poverty and the promise of hope and good fortune from witch doctors, communities are being reduced to savages. And like the Tanzanian journalist said, if these potions worked wouldn’t the whole of Africa be in a better state than it is in now?
I remember the first time I saw a person with albinism in a Kigali market, I must have been no more than six years old. The woman was bent over her market stall, her feet were blistered and bare. On her back she carried a child whose skin was the color of the night sky,and in her hand she carried a rainbow-colored umbrella which had seen enough days. I remember the blue and green pattern of her kitenge. I stared at her from the car window because I did not understand how a white woman would look so unkempt and have a black baby on her back. My mum said she was a ‘nyamweru’ but at my age it didn’t make sense. I spotted a few more people with the same condition in the following years but I did not meet a person with albinism formally until I turned 20. I did stare covertly and I so badly wanted to touch her hair and her skin but I couldn’t, it would be bizarre and invasive. That naive curiosity we often deny we have in public. But as we hung out, I discovered she was a normal person like the rest of us, a funny and intelligent girl with the same complexes and stories we all had as young women.
A year later I went to Nigeria for a few months and saw several people with albinism in my travels. Many had blistered skin due to harsh exposure to the sun rays and the lack of skin ointments. I was determined to do something about it and upon my return I wrote a long letter to Nivea which is well known for its range of sun protection lotions and other skin moisturisers. I told them about my journey to Nigeria and what I had seen and how I felt they could help the thousands of people whose lives were at risk due to lack of information and access to skin ointments. I got a response telling me that my message had been forwarded to the Brand Manager of Nivea Sun but did not hear anything after that and I completely forgot until on Friday the documentary reminded me. So today I wrote them a fresh email and hope this time they will be compelled to give me a better response.
Earlier on this year I read a feature by Bonnie Dudzai Mureyi called ‘My Albinism Doesn’t Define Me’ on Her Zimbabwe and she is truly an inspirational young woman. Her charisma and smile reminds you that obstacles are as big as you make them. She says, ‘I was born with albinism but besides the physical limitations of my skin being overly sensitive to light and my eyesight being poor, I find it not to be an unfortunate circumstance at all. Indeed, I have had personal struggles with self-acceptance, confidence, self esteem and sometimes the concept of what is beautiful and what is ugly (after all, who hasn’t?), but I have overcome these struggles to reclaim my self. This has all been part of the process of self-liberation.’ And so it should be. Read the whole interview here.
People with albinism are human beings before all else, and should be treated as such. Africans everywhere should vow to put an end to all this persecution for a tradition/culture that is doing nothing but creating division and hatred. God does not make mistakes and people should stop giving themselves the authority to define the purpose of other people’s lives.
Famous Black People with Albinism
Salif Keita – Musician
Mem Nahadr – Jazz Vocalist