“Last Ramadan, I was in a well known politicians house and his son walked in with a friend- an albino. The politician’s response was embarrassing, causing me to cringe. He queried his son, “When did you start making friends with sick people?” Of course, the son tried to defend his albino friend, demanding that his father apologize to him, insisting that he had the right to be friends with whomever he pleased and his father had no choice but to respect his decision. The father refused
Interestingly, the friend in question just laughed over the matter as in his own words, “I am used to getting such reaction from people.” The politician never apologized for his social gaffe. This encounter left a deep impression on me, and I began to wonder about the quality of life these special group of people led
Growing up, I couldn’t do a lot of things. I couldn’t go out under the sun else I get burnt. I had a lot of friends, but at some point in primary school, it dawned strongly on me that I was very different. Every other person was dark, and I was extremely fair
This realization came in Primary five, because in all the previous classes, there was always either a Lebanese, Chinese, or an American student in my class. So, after I realized this, I began to withdraw. I seldom went for parties. Then, in secondary school – I went to Queens college – it wasn’t so bad. Although there was an occasion when I got into an argument with a friend one day and she used my complexion against me. That was the first time I cried and queried God for making me different from others.
When I got into UNILAG, the teasing continued. I stayed in the Girl’s hostel, and so whenever I passed by the Boy’s hostel, they will cheer and clap. At first it felt uncomfortable, but I told my mom about it and she said to see it as an appreciation. She said I should see it as that they appreciate my complexion. It stopped bothering me, and whenever they cheered, I would smile and wave. I became very proud of myself and came out of my shell
The truth is, as at the time I got married, no one was expecting it. It came as a rude shock. No one really thought I would get married. My husband is a huge blessing, he is very protective of me. He helped me fight the battle. I’m sure there are things he’s not told me till date, I don’t know if he ever will
I understand the shock, because it is more common for persons living with albinism to be lonely. People don’t want to date them. 70% of albinos are not in relationships. Some go into relationships and it doesn’t work. Mostly because their partners are not proud of them. I’ve heard about albinos being raped. There are villages who think raping an albino cures HIV. I even heard they amputate albinos’ hands for sale in Kenya and Tanzania because they believe it brings good luck”
DANG: How do you maintain your skin and keep it fresh?
Onome:I try as much as I can to take care of my skin. When I get a sunburn, I can be as red as a tomato, and it hurts. There are stages of healing. First, it gets red, then pink, and back to pale. Then your skin starts peeling. If care isn’t taken you get pigments and black spots. The bad thing about it is if you keep exposing yourself, the spots will turn into injuries that will turn to pores which will open up. In turn, that could expose you to skin cancer
This is why I always preach that albinos should take good care of themselves. Use umbrellas, face caps, and sunscreens. I understand it might be difficult to always go out with umbrellas, especially the boys, but they can wear face caps, even though that is not enough protection. Someone said to me that she wears long sleeves, but I told her it still doesn’t protect her from the harsh effect of the sun. The umbrella is the best protection. If people with dark skins still use umbrellas when the sun is too hot, how much more an albino?
DANG: Did you worry that your child may be an Albino too?
Onome:When I got pregnant, I was worried, to be honest. I told God “I know I’m an albino and my parents took care of me, but as a Nigerian, with the society I’m in, and for the sake of my understanding husband who’s dealing with me already, please don’t give me an albino child.” I shared my desire with my siblings and we turned it to prayer points. It sounds unbelievable to people that my child isn’t an albino. They kept saying how lucky I was
I know soon, my child will ask why I’m so fair, because his friends will too. So, I’m grooming myself psychologically. I will tell him that I’m an albino. I’ll tell him I don’t have melanin but he does. I’ll tell him mommy loves him, and is comfortable with who she is, and he doesn’t have to defend mommy. ‘People will always want to argue with you and call me derogatory names, but don’t let them get under your skin’. I’m just preparing myself.
I’m teaching albino parents how to deal with their kids. Name calling hurts. I know you’ll say, are you not albinos after all? But I’ve met over 200 albinos since I started my foundation, and more than 80% of them have said to me that despite the fact that they know they’re albinos, just as black people know they are black, the tone of it when people call us ‘Afin’ isn’t palatable. We find it quite rude, condescending and demoralising
I started the campaign ‘Beyond the complexion’ because I need people to start looking at us beyond our complexion and the colour of our skin. Look at us just as you see your siblings, or mothers. I mean, if you have an albino in your family, won’t you treat them with love? I need people to understand that we are the same. No matter the differences in the colour of our skins. Treat albinos with love and respect because kindness changes everything.”