‘STUCK BETWEEN TWO WORLDS’
The relics of our cultures have spanked me so hard and reduce me to a beast chased like a ghost. I have no weapon but my voice, so I refuse to be silent because I am an African young woman with a distinct identity. As an Albino girl, I’m always in between two worlds. The natural and the artificial. Always expected to define my continent, my ethnicity, racial and cultural identity. I find that very complicated. “I refuse to walk in my mum’s shoes” says Enanga, a 14year old girl who watched her mother slowly been killed by her culture.
Albinism is a congenital disorder characterized by a complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes of an Albinos. This is due to the absence of enzyme involved in the production of melanin. Albinos in some parts of the world and in Africa in particular are seen as curses. They are faced with stigma and discrimination. It is one thing to be an albino and worst still to be an albino in Africa. Children are the most vulnerable. Witch doctors claim their body parts are capable of bringing riches, power and success, if used in potions. Fishermen are said to weave the hair of an Albino into their nets to help them catch more fish. Some feel they are ghosts who can bring wealth, power and luck. Their body parts are highly prized and there exist lucrative black market for the body parts of albinos in some African countries. The perpetrator still continue without trial. While to others they should be wiped off from the face of the earth. The allure of the forbidden is ever-present in the face of every Albinos and this has spank several generations from their basic rights.
I was born in a family of black parents but I was raised up by a single mum. My mother has always being my source of inspiration. I had just turned 14 in 1994. And I was a form five science student in GBHS Molyko Buea, Cameroon. I was in my final year, preparing to write the GCE Ordinary Level Examination. I was very intelligent and was always the first in my class. I was filled with love for mankind and I wanted to become the first Albino medical doctor in my community. I wanted to save lives and most of all research and find solutions for Albinos. I had hope and was determined to prove the contrary because of my colour skin. I was best at all and was highly admired at school and in the village. I could sing so well, draw so well, dance so well and I was the best in all. I was chock-full of creativity. I’m a human being just like everyone else, only I need more care. For instance, I need to make sure my skin gets adequate protection from the equatorial sun. While in the classrooms I need to have a place in the front row, or else I cannot see the blackboard. But unfortunately for me I was betrayed by my very own custom and tradition.
It was a sunny Thursday afternoon at about 2.30pm, as I walked back from school with my peers. I could barely see from the rays produced by the beams from the sun. But I was looking very beautiful with my Snow white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. My colour skin distinguished me from the other girls as we were chatting. As I move closer home I by-passed five women leaders coming out from our house. I greeted and walked in the house and I found my mother wheeling. She was shouting and crying “I would never let her be yours”. “She is my life and God who gave her to me will help me”. I moved closer to her and she gripped me and was sulking. I was confused and felt that we had lost grandmama who was just recovering from a malaria attack. When I asked her why she was crying she looked at me and continued weeping. I also started weeping. My mother had been living in fear and had come to the end of herself. As she talked to me, I could see how desperate she was. Her looks could tell how much she needed help, Tears were streaming down her face as she told me. There was such a sadness in her voice, I could tell she was speaking from the depth of her being. It was the cry of her heart, her frustration, her inner war of values; she wanted to be free. She is not the only one going through such trials and tribulations.
There are many other women out there like mother and they are in a dilemma. Finally, she said, “my daughter it’s time I tell you the truth”. What truth I ponder. But first you must promise me, that you will be strong to fight to the end. So that mothers like me in future shall be proud when they have white children. Many Africans belief that the birth of a white child to black parents is supernatural. Families are often told to kill the children at birth. But I refused to kill you and was abandoned by your father. Our people are encircled with prejudices and they believe that albinos are immortal, they have the ability to see at night, that their body parts possess magical powers and are useful for magical portions. Many albino girls and women live in fear. The town of Buea lies at the foot of Mt Cameroon, the highest volcanic mountain in West and Central Africa. In the streets, a number of albinos go about their daily activities. But when the mountain threatens to erupt, they all go underground to avoid being sacrificed to appease the mountain gods. There exist a popular belief among the Bakweri people of the SW Region of Cameroon. It is believed that, the Albinos are abandoned on the mountain as offerings of appeasement to the mountain god (Efasa Moto) so that he could continue to bless the inhabitants at the foot of the Fako Mountain. This has caused so much fear among the Bakweri albinos.
In 1994 Mt Cameroon erupted, many albinos in Buea and her environs went into hidings as it was alleged that the god of the mountain were demanding a sacrifice. The mountain has been angry for one week and we may all die if we do not perform the sacrifice. Yes that I know I said. The problem was not with the mountain but the fact that you have been selected by the god for the sacrifice with six others. What for mother, I asked. It is believed that when the mountain is about to erupt, seven young Albinos virgins must be sacrifice to appease the gods of the mountains (Efasa Moto) If not the anger of the gods will kill everybody in the village. So how does that involve me? What and how will they sacrifice us? You will be taken and abandoned on the mountain naked until you slowly die for the gods. Jesus I exclaimed. I was frightened and depressed. So what about my dreams? And if I escaped? I asked. Our whole family will be wiped out. Oh God I’m stuck between two world. They will burn us alive. She said shouting.
I walked into my room devastated and lifeless. I opened the widow to lighten the room when I saw four huge men guarding our house. I could not escape. Suddenly I heard mother calling “my child come and eat. Mama I’m not hungry, I said. I had lost my appetite and was shock. I requested to be left alone. So I decided to pray and confess my sin. I wanted to be prepared to face my destiny. So I prayed, cried and sang for seven hours. And with the fatigue I felt asleep.
I was forcefully woken up by my mother and a team of three barred old men. It was 3am in the morning. Confused, they grabbed me. Pulled me out of bed. Shook me to consciousness and under the thick cover of darkness, whisked me off to some secluded location. I was confused. And unaware of what was going on. I tried to scream, but they held my mouth hard. And asked me to cooperate. I tried to free myself and run to safety, but I was too tiny. They easily overpowered me. After what it’s seemed like an eternal journey, full of anguish and turmoil, I was pushed into a poorly-lit scraggly hut. And then I was dumped in front of a deathly-looking man. He grinned like a wizard. And his eyes were cold. And his hands were rough. Flipping me around, he confirmed and ordered that I should be strip naked by other men. They stripped me naked. My legs wide open. He inserted a wooden item in my virginal to check if I was a virgin. I was too young to comprehend the magnitude of this madness. And right there, the old men held me down. And ordered that I should be prepared for the sacrifice. I refused. And started screaming and wailing. It was all in vain. A dirty piece of cloth was stuffed into my mouth. And I was firmly held down. Frighten and most shockingly I became unconscious and only came to my senses some hours later. It was daytime already. And they had hidden me at the back of a crumbling hut at the foot of the mountain with six other young girls. We had been chosen for the sacrifice to the god of the mountain. My heart hurt like hell, pulsating with a fierce, fiery pain. I bite back tears, trying too hard to swallow them whole. My soul feel heavy, so I slump my tired shoulders down, down, down. I trembled with anger, and temper. I feel empty, useless and invisible, like a hungry ghost. These were really tough days for us Albinos. The god of the mountain had to be appeased. The virgin girls were abandoned naked, exhausted and tied. We couldn’t run. Or hide. Or give up. We wanted to run far, far, away. But, we couldn’t. Because if we did, the only person we would be running from is ourselves. Hiding from ourselves. We didn’t need to understand what we’re feeling. We didn’t need to analyze it. We just needed to comfort and support ourselves. We had a thousand beautiful things we could do to support ourselves. We sang squeezing our tied hands. We were bold to dive right into the toughness of the day. We knew we couldn’t retreat, but we were hurt. We vowed never to abandon our sweet selves even if we died. But something miraculously happened.
The women in the community staged a revolt for the liberation of their daughters. They were joined by the young girls and boys from all the schools in the village. The village was in confusion. The king was confused but calmed the angry crowd. He spoke to them with wisdom. He explained that he was not the one in charge of the traditional laws but a messenger from the gods. We are all part of the law and if we want the law to be abolished then it shall be so. But this shall be done in accordance to our customs and traditions. My people of Buea be calm. I promise I shall look into this issue because I’m losing my population and killing innocent souls. I do not want many more people to be hurt. Your cry has been taken into consideration. Go home and at sun set I shall have a meeting with the elders’ and the chief priest to discuss the matter. But the angry crowd refused and asked that their daughters be released first and immediately. They shouted no, no, no, .release, release, release, release, our daughters. The king saw how furious the people looked at him. They were so desperate to hear him talk. He was silence for a while and went in to the palace with some of the elders who were present. He was confused because he, did not know how he was going to please the angry god of the mountain. He was stuck between two worlds. He concerted with his elders who advise him to release the girls and that they were going to secretly get other girls for the sacrifice without the consent of the people. It is tradition and it must be done. It was from old and we can’t change what our fathers gave us, if we try we shall all die. But we have to release the girls if not so the villagers will revolt and we shall all lose our authority over the people. Said Ebot the oldest of the elders. But Ebia added we may also be killed and our family members killed too, if we continue to delay. The king in confusion said if I try to change this law I shall die and my heir shall also be killed mystically. “Efasa Moto” is a very wild god. No man plays with “Efasa Moto”. No man, No man. We know our king, murmured Ekat. What shall we then do? Mblla said, time is not on our side any more, let us liberate the girls and proceed with our plan. We shall all meet at sunset, Ekane, you have inform the chief priest because we need him his direction. So the king reluctantly came out and greeted his people again. They responded but anxiously waiting to hear him talk. He looked in air and said, we have decided to release your daughters to you while we deliberate and find solutions on how we shall address the laws of our land. We all know the consequences of this action because this has never happen in the history of our ancestors. “Efasa Moto” is a wild god and has no pity. Take note before your daughters are been release to you. “Efasa Moto” is a wild god and has no pity. Ekane go and tell the chief priest to release the girls. He ordered. The crowed was satisfied but the older women and men who knew the tradition were worried about the consequences.
They had mixed feelings and knew exactly what will befall the villagers. They moved sadly shaking their heads as they followed the youths and the women to where the girls had been hidden. The sacrificial law against the Albinos was distorted for the first time which has never happen in the history of Buea. Ekane hurried as he walked to the foot of the mountain. The people followed him singing and shouting for joy. Ebot, Enanga’s best friend could be seen with the youths singing for the release of her friend. The distance from the palace was about 200km. As they approached the hut of the chief priest, he got the noise and quickly consulted the ancestors. He started evoking the gods with incarnations. “Halala bala sha” said the chief priest. The gods of”Efasa Moto” which I serve what is happening? Talk to me. Then he listened and shock his head three times confirming the message. So before the people could draw near to his hut he was ready and was standing outside.
Finally the crowd arrived and the chief priest was waiting for them. Ekane, hurried in front to meet chief priest. But was rudely interrupted by the chief priest who ordered him to wait and said, I have been informed by the gods already. So you all must wait here until I return. No one must follow me. And he went behind the hut were the girls were locked up. He was holding some of the dresses of the locked girls in his left hand. My best friend Ebot, told me that later. Before he could open the door he chanted some incarnations seven times and opened the door. The seven times represented the seven girls. This also was to alert the girls. He was appeasing the god not to punish the girls who had already been prepared for him. He assured the god that he was going to bring a double sacrifice, which meant 14 Albinos were going to be offered if the law was not abolished. He then walked in backward, closed the door and stopped at the center of the hut. He turned and stretched his hand toward us and offered our dirty dresses. We all wanted to collect the dresses but we could not because our hands were tied. He seemed confused and had forgotten that he had ordered his men to tie us up. So he removed a knife from his traditional bag and began cutting the ropes. He looked frightful and had something like a leaf held between his lips as he struggled with the ropes.
The girls got up one after the other picking up their dresses. They dressed up faster and by the time he was liberating the seventh girl, they were all ready to go. Some even wanted to jump out but the looks on his face kept the girls still. With a show of hand he asked that we moved to the center of the hut. He then remove a bottle from his bag containing a black liquid and applied on our fore heads. After he had finished, he then opened the door. We could barely move well because we had been tied for long. As we struggled to walk out, it seemed like a dream. I looked up to the heavens and thanked God in my heart. The happy crowd was anxious to carry us up. But I struggled to see my mother first. As I looked round eagerly, a hand gripped me from the back. I quickly turned and there was mother. She was still crying. I held her so closely and I felt relief by her touch. She whispered, I’m so sorry my child. I said mum is ok, is not your fault. I will forever forgive you. All my friends were clamoring for joy struggling to touch me. This was same with the other girls. We were liberated at last and I was so happy to meet my mother and friends. I knew this was the invisible hand of God.
As we walked home one big boy carried me on his back. When we got home grandma was sitting outside and she was so happy. Mother rushed in and went to the kitchen. She first put some water on the fire. Then she started preparing food. She had left the house very early that day in search for a solution for my release. So all of us had to wait for her to cook. I sad on the mat outside and anyone who heard I was released came to celebrate with me. After 15minutes mother held my hand to the bath. She had warmed some water. She put a stool that I sit and she bath me like her baby of old. Then she took me in and allow me to dress up while she ran to the kitchen. Mum was a very hard working woman. So when I had finish I requested that I wanted to sleep because I was feeling so tired.
Mum gave me some fruits and said when I finish I could go and have my rest. I ate the fruits and went to the room and climbed on the bed to sleep. I could hear women and children asking for me from outside. Mum kept telling them she is resting come later. After an hour food was ready and I was so hungry. It was kwakoko and mbanga soup. It was my favorite. We prayed and I ate with a large appetite. After the meal we share some jokes and mother started narrating what had happened after I was taken away. We had some visitors who had brought some food for me and they were sharing the stories. But they still did not know what will happen if the sacrifice was never offered. They said I was very lucky with the other girls. That it was not yet over because the rituals most be performed, if not so many of us will die. God forbid “I shouted”.
Later in the evening, the elders of the village were seen going to the king’s palace. Ekat one of my father’s friend who was a member of the council of elders could also be spotted. They were beautifully dressed in their traditional regalia and walked majestically. The meeting lasted for many hours and it was to be continue the next day as my mother waited to see Ekat about the decision of the elders. He came back very late and my mother went to bed without been able to go to his house. Early in the morning she went to his compound. He told her not to have any fear that the problem shall be solved. He never told her their secret, for they had taken an oath never to reveal their decision. It was agreed a new set of girls shall be kidnapped for the sacrifice far in the interior of the village. I can’t tell if this was done because the king nor his heir didn’t die. He ruled for many years as I lived in Buea.
But after three market days it was announced by the town crier, that the killing of albinos by the god was abolished. But this was only a trick to keep Albinos out of fear.
After 20years I became the first medical doctor from my community. And I was posted to a health post in my village. I built a new house for mother. Grandmama had died and we both lived happily together. I treated and saved many patients black and white, including my father and all those who had rejected me. But I was not still free from the prejudices. It became worst because I couldn’t have a boyfriend who truly loved me. I wanted marriage and to have babies like every woman but it was difficult. About four years ago, a woman came begging for my hair to use in preparing traditional medicine. My mother had admits that she regularly shaved my hair when I was younger for the same purpose. Men, running for elections or seeking job promotions, often offered me huge amounts of money for sex. So I decided to open a re-habitation center for Albinos and I created an association. This association was called “A world free from violence” (AWFV). This association was aimed at fighting against all forms of violence against albinos. The association provided free medical services and lenses for Albino children. The youths who were Albinos were matched up with skilled workers after school and weekends to develop their skills as they studied. Some were empowered with income generating activities and loans given to them to start up petit businesses. Some albinos were enrolled in music and drawing classes.
As the president of “A world free from violence” (AWFV). I lobbied for assistance from home and abroad. We received lots of support from other Albinos associations. I organized many advocacy and sensitization programmes in many Cameroonian communities. Over time, the association built the self-esteem of many albinos and their families. And less children were killed at birth, though at a very slow rate. Reports of the systematic elimination of albino babies were now dropping. Many albinos went to school. The plight of albinos gradually began to change. Although the situation has changed a great deal, people, especially those who do not have albino relatives still find it difficult to associate with these people as normal human beings. Many of them who are qualified still go through thick and thin to get employment. But there still existed a problem with albinos graduating from the universities.
They were gradually increasing in number, but are not offer jobs. Most of them are jobless and are not integrated in leadership positions. Mbida Paul, an albino and a graduate said since he left university five years ago, he has failed all interviews for job opportunities. He believes it is because of his skin colour. “Wherever I have dropped my application for job opportunities, I am always called up for interviews but I have failed all those interviews because of my colour”. Albinism is considered a handicap. Albinos, like the rest of humanity are created by God and have the right to live, work, vote, contribute to community development and enjoy any other privilege in every society. They did not choose to be born albinos same as we did not choose how we should be born. Who knows if you are a healthy carrier of an albino gene? You could give birth to an albino. Said Martha. A weeklong activity was organized at the center and many albinos expressed their worries. We were very lucky that the government had sent the minister’s representatives of health and social affairs to attend the conference. They both pledged to support to the association and also promised to examine all complaints. There is a lot to be done in countries such as Cameroon to ensure albinos have access to healthcare and education. But we must do our best to educate other people and raise awareness of such major dangers as skin cancer. We must persuade other people and the government to make it possible for albinos to play their part in society.”
Enanga, keep her version and was very hardworking. She worked in the hospital and coordinated the work of the organization. She is so focus and brings hope to many people in her community. Fortunately for her she had caught the admiration of one of her school mates who knew her so well. This young man had grown in that community but was black. He had been watching her growing for so many years. He had admired her secretly but wondered how his parents will react if he wanted to marry Enanga someday. But as years passed by he developed the courage to talk to her since she too had grown older. At this time Enanga was 36years old but was not bother about marriage any longer. Mukeba was a secondary school teacher and was about 38years old.
So on this faithful day he decided to visit the Enanga’s organization. He wanted to pay her a visit and to express his love for her. He arrived and greeted her secretary and requested if he could see Enanga. But the secretary replied that she is busy and she asked he could wait. He accepted and was offered a sit. Enanga was informed that he wanted to see her. He sat and waited for about an hour. Sudden he saw some girls walked passed form Enanga’s office. His heart leaped for joy and he was waiting on the secretary to permit him go in the office but she delayed a bit. And Enaga on her part, finished and had forgotten about him. Mukeba was still sitting outside. Tired and exhausted, she decided to go home. She packed her bag and was about to lock her office when she saw Mukeba. Eheeeee, good afternoon Mukeba, I’m so sorry, she exclaimed. He said good afternoon Enanga. So what brings you here? She asked. Just wanted to take you out for a walk because you’re always too busy. Ok as you can see I was just leaving. So where are we going to? He smiled and said it’s a surprise. Actually he had arranged for a diner night for both of them in Limbe. He was hoping that he was going to ask her to marry him. So they both drove in Enaga’s car to Limbe. They first decided to stop in the botanical garden and later moved to the snack where Mukeba had previously arrange. This was really surprise and she was very happy. She had at least found a man who had concern for her for the first time. A man who didn’t care if she was an Albino. She was prepared for anything. They got there and had fun and he proposed. She immediately accepted. She had been looking for love and this kind of opportunity was not to be ignored. The joy in her made her crazy. She could not pretend. It could be seen in her eyes. She liked him to much that she couldn’t allow him to go. They had been school mate and he was not a stranger. Three days after Mukeba decided to tell his mother. She didn’t object as he had earlier thought. But she was happy because her son had found a wife. A hardworking woman. The arrangement for the wedding was settled and her bride price had to be paid to her father as tradition requested. Enanga had to meet her father face to face to discuss about her marriage. This was so difficult for her to believe that she was abandoned by him because of her colour. Her mother begged her to forgive him and leave the judgment to the lord. She did and went to see him before her in-laws could come for the marriage proper. She went to her father’s house and they had a heated debate, but she decided to forgive the father when he went down on his knees begging his child. She left very empty and was now ready for her marriage. The traditional wedding went smoothly without any objection from both families. Two weeks to her church wedding, she decided to reconcile her mother and her father. Her Father was not married since after he had abandoned them. So they both accepted and forgive each other. And they accepted to renew their vows on the same day that Enanga and Mukeba were getting married in the same church. It was a day of joy to all who had known the story of Enanga. Her wedding was the talk of the town and her name was on every lip. She was happily married and had three children. Enanga had become a blessing and not a curse in her community.
So let us join Enanga to say No to violence against Albinos in the world.