The New Times (Kigali)

10 November 2012

Rwanda: He Married an Albino Against All Odds

Photo: IRIN
An Albino boy carries a baby.

HUYE-HOW would you react if your son brought an albino home to ignore your marriage blessings? Arguably, many parents (or other close relatives) would be shocked and would try to prevent such a marriage from taking place.

But, what if the lovers decide at all costs to go ahead with their plans regardless of what every one around them thinks?

Such was the decision Ntamugabumwe Nkambi ya Baridi, 53, took six years ago when he firmly resolved to marry Sifa Akimana, now aged 29, an albino despite protests from family and friends.

"My first wife had passed away and I fell in love with this lady," Ntamugabumwe, a resident of Tumba Sector, Huye District, explains.

"I knew her [my wife] since her childhood. So, when we fell in love, I decided to marry her despite the many voices from residents who were demoralising me," he adds.

People laughed at him and tried to discourage him from marrying an albino.

"But I told them I had decided to marry an albino because of love and that nothing could change my choice. I fought hard to have her," Ntamugabumwe, remembers as his eyes dart around. Albinos suffer from a condition called albinalism, an inherited condition present at birth, characterised by a reduced or lack of pigment that normally gives colour to the skin, hair, and eyes.

Ntamugabumwe, who speaks Kinyarwanda and a little French, talks about his informal marriage with passion. A marriage that has survived the deepest of the valleys and challenges. He talks of the unending love he has for his dear wife whom society has discriminated.

"I love her so much," he says emphatically. "I do love her and she loves me. We love each other and together we make a happy family," Ntamugabumwe reveals in a high pitched tone as if to make sure that people around can hear his message and spread it.

But, how did Ntamugabumwe overcome the various stereotypes about albinism in a society where it is a rare occurrence to witness a 'normal' man walking down the aisle with an albino?

"I realised that she was as human as others," that's the answer Ntamugabumwe has for his critics.

The man, who refers to his wife as 'my baby' (to emphasise the depth of their love), insists their 6-year-old marriage has always been a happy experience.

"Even when we get a misunderstanding like any other couple, we solve it amicably," he says.

Ntamugabumwe's assertions are echoed by his wife who says she has never seen a 'romantic man' like his husband.

"Whenever I need his help, he is always there," Akimana asserts.

"Of recent, I was involved in a road accident and my leg got a fracture," she narrates as she points to her left leg covered in plaster.

And if you still doubt their love read this: "My husband is the one who helps me in everything: he showers me, washes my clothes and cooks for me. Who else could equal him?" the 29-year-old Akimana asks.

Akimana, who uses clutches while moving, insists she did not marry her husband because of her situation.

"I did not marry him because I am an albino. Not at all! I did it because of love," she says.

The couple is always seen moving together in their village and sharing beer in a bar, a local resident told this paper.

"I am not ashamed of being with my wife in public," Ntamugabumwe says.

But, the couple has failed to formalise their marriage in church due to poverty. For their survival, the family relies on money generated by the man who repairs old jerry cans and cooking pans for local residents.

But still, that has not affected their relationship. "I hope to live with her forever," Ntamugabumwe says.

Albinism occurs when one of several genetic defects prevents the body from making melanin, the substance that gives colour to hair, skin and the iris of the eye.

It is estimated that the abnormality affects one individual in 20 000 worldwide. But, the real number of people living with Albinism in Rwanda is not known.

Albinism is passed from parents to their children through genes. For most types of albinism, both parents must carry an albinism gene to have a child with albinism. Parents may have normal pigmentation but still carry the gene. When both parents carry the gene, and neither parent has albinism, there is a one-in-four chance at each pregnancy that the baby will be born with albinism. This type of inheritance is called autosomal recessive inheritance.

'Discrimination'

A number of stereotypes have prevented people with albinism to take advantage of the best things the world offers.

The stereotypes are varied according to cultures, but some allege, for instance, that if you touch an albino you will be 'white' as well or that if you are pregnant and you meet an albino your baby might be white.

Albinos have even been associated with superstition and magical powers in some cultures-something which resulted in the murder of such individuals. In Tanzania and Burundi, for instance, there has been an unprecedented rise in witchcraft-related killings of albino people in recent years.

Their body parts, which have been the major cause of their death, were being cut off and sold for purposes of witchcraft.

In many other cultures, albinos endure segregation and threat throughout their lives, and in some cases they are killed after birth to avoid discrimination. Some other communities mistakenly think albinos are less capable and do not take them to school over the pretext that it would be a waste of money.

In Rwanda, though there have been no albino killings, segregation, both in schools and at home is still a challenge for them.

"Sometimes, people refuse to share the same seat with me," Akimana says sadly. "They often tell me I smell bad-something I cannot be happy with," she adds with a tinge of bitterness.

"Even my siblings have rejected me, because I have a different skin colour. We don't even share our meal on a same plate," the woman who has two brothers reveals.

And, his husband says he is always saddened when his wife is treated rudely or faces discrimination due to her condition.

"I always feel bad when she is insulted," Ntamugabumwe says, as tears drop from his eyes. In such situations, I try to protect her by telling the individuals abusing her that a human being is like any other regardless of her skin colour, explains Ntamugabumwe.

Nonetheless, as the world moves on, cultures and traditions evolve and mindsets change. And, the couple believes one day the discrimination albinos are facing will end forever.

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