National Geographic : 2017 Jun
86 national geographic • JUne 2017 City’s Staten Island, arranged for Baraka, Emma, and three other maimed Tanzanian children with albinism to be outfitted with free prosthetics by the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia. Now in the lobby of a Dar es Salaam hotel, Baraka draws pictures in my notebook, holding a teddy bear I brought for him under his stub arm. Like Emma, Baraka has outgrown his prosthet- ic. He and one sister with albinism are going to school on Under the Same Sun’s account. He and I resume our game of touching each other’s face, saying, nose, pua; eye, jicho; cheek, shavu. He remembers how to count to 10 in English, using the fingers on his only hand twice. He’s seen his mother a few times, but frown- ing, he says, “My father is in jail.” I don’t ask why because I know: His father and a witch doctor are charged with assaulting him. Meanwhile he is happy, getting more hugs and kisses at his school, he says, than he ever did in his village. $900 glasses are tinted against the sun, and the left side, for what he calls his “seeing eye,” is fit- ted with a lens that magnifies six times. By 2008, when he was 43, he had accumulat- ed so much money that he was feeling ready to do something with the excess. A late night spent Googling “albinos Africa” left him horrified and sleepless. In those wee hours he read recent re- ports by Vicky Ntetema, a Tanzanian who was the BBC’s bureau chief there. Tipped off to attacks, including a teacher’s murder of his 18-month-old son, Ntetema posed as a businesswoman to visit two traditional heal- ers and 10 witch doctors, whose round thatched huts, topped with “antennae” made from sticks and cowrie shells, dot the rural landscape. “Two made it very clear, ‘We kill,’ and promised after I sent them a down payment they would give me body parts,” she recalls. Each part, even hair, would cost her $2,000. Her reports, to her surprise, angered Tanza- nians. Witch doctors texted death threats to her. Countrymen questioned her patriotism. Govern- ment officials suggested this happened in other places, so why focus on Tanzania? For her safety, the BBC sent her into hiding outside Tanzania. Ash found her and, by phone, listened for hours. He could not locate Tanzania on a map. He had never traveled farther than Europe. He had never carried his albinism as a purpose. But, he says, “I had an answer to the question of what would be next in my life.” The next morning he checked flights to Africa. Ntetema now leads Under the Same Sun’s Tan- zanian staff. She knows almost all of the spon- sored children by name and can tell their stories. Among the newest and sweetest is Baraka Cosmas, a tiny boy of six. His earnest face belies a tender spirit, even though his right hand was sliced off a year before. “I saw the blood flying all over the place,” he told Ntetema after his attack, “and I called for my father, but he didn’t come.” When Ntetema told her team about his March 2015 attack, she ended her email: “God, this is too painful! When will it end?” We first met in 2015, when Global Medical Re- lief Fund, a small nonprofit based on New York At Lake View School, Rehema Hajji, nine, applies sunscreen to her younger sister, Fatuma, five, before they step into the sunlight. Sunscreen is expensive in sub- Saharan Africa, but nonprofit organizations distribute it for free. Many people with albinism in Tanzania die of skin cancer before turning 40.