Sunday, May 24, 2009

Being Albino in Africa

I knew an albino girl in college. I probably wouldn't have even known she was albino if she didn't tell me. She was just a girl with really white hair and white eyelashes.

Being albino in Africa is a little more obvious. It's hard to be a 'black' albino. Being albino has its own physical problems such as having extremely sensitive skin and poor eyesight. The albino males I have seen are almost always wearing a cap to protect their facial skin from the harsh sun rays. Many of them have skin problems on their arms and face due to over-exposure to the sun.

As a point of reference, Jos is about 10 degrees north of the equator so it's very easy to get a sunburn here. I really try to avoid the sun between 11 a.m. til 3 p.m. because I can burn in about 10 minutes. I'm fair-skinned, but I still have more protection than an albino.

I visited with two albinos in the last two days, and I was struck by their eye problems. The first albino would only make brief eye contact with me; she would not hold my gaze (well, that's cultural since she is younger than me). I noticed that her eyes did not track together; in fact the two eyes seemed to turn outward--just the opposite of cross-eyed. I saw the other albino reading a book with one eye about an inch off the page.

Surely some of these eye problems could be surgically corrected, but I'm sure it would be very expensive.

A few months ago my friend Ann (from Wisconsin) opened up my eyes to a way to minister to albinos. She put out a group email asking for donations of sunscreen for the albinos. Wow. I had never thought of that. What a great idea! Most of us have more tubes of sunscreen than we will ever use. We donated a few. Later Ann attended a meeting of the albino group (they have a name, but I can't remember it) and presented the sunscreen. They were so grateful! There is a little bit of sunscreen available here, but it's extremely expensive and most can't afford it.

Bayo asked me to keep a few tubes of sunscreen in my car and give it to the albino lady who lives on the road to Bezer Home. I kept my eyes open for a good month before I finally saw her fetching a bucket of water one day. I stopped the car and gave her the sunscreen. She said thank you and curtsied with a full bucket of water on her head.

This past week she traced me to Bezer Home. She wanted to know if I had a job for her so she could earn some money to further her education beyond high school. I told her I would keep her in mind if anything comes up.

Later I mentioned this interchange to Bayo, and he immediately responded, "Let's find something for her. These people are so marginalized." That's something I'm only vaguely aware of, but I would like to learn more about how life is difficult for albinos beyond the physical issues they face.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I've heard that there is now sun screen with a really high number, such as 50 - 100, on the market now. You'll have to look for it when you are in the US. But I also caught the tail end of a report on TV about the numbers on sun screen not necessarily being meaningful, like the manufacturer can put what ever they want on the container. Maybe you can find a reference to this on the web.

I hope to get to your parents house with a wedding dress within a few days. I'll make a trip to the spring at the same time.

Jill said...

Mary Beth, I remember her, the albino young women by BH I mean. I saw her nearly everyday. That's such an interesting entry. Jill :)