Monday, November 1, 2010

The different ones are usually the glorious ones (Part 1): Takadini

The different ones are usually the glorious ones. Image:
I had never really thought about albinos. The only one I had ever seen was a destitute woman who sat outside a department store we frequented in my home town of Bulawayo when I was a child. To this day I remember the uncomfortable combination of fear and pity she elicited from me during the split second it took to toss a coin in her metal cup as we walked into the store. It was mostly to do with her eyes. She had deep red irises and that continually danced from left to right, never settling in any fixed position, even momentarily. Her left eyelid was lazy and hung half shut making it even harder to make eye contact with her. She made me uncomfortable because we could not connect. I didn't think of her much though. The exact time it took to extract a coin, aim at a metal cup, launch it into the air and await the sound of clinking metal is exactly how long I thought about her and was the extent of my consideration of albinos in general.


When I was a teenager, oscillating between imagining I was an all American sweetheart like the girls in the movie Clueless, and my nourishing my powerful academic inclinations while discovering the treasures of all manner of literature, I read a book called Takadini. This paperback novel by Ben Hansen, not many pages long, was about a woman and her child born with albinism in pre-colonial Zimbabwe.

Sekai and her son, Takadini (it's a Shona name meaning, what have we done?) are kicked out of their home and the story skilfully chronicles their quest for survival, acceptance and his eventual fulfillment as a physically disabled but immensely talented Mbira player. Through the medium of music Takadini finds a place of acceptance and is embraced by the strangers amongst whom he and his mother have settled. It is a heart-wrenching story about ostracism, stigma, superstition, grace and love. I loved the illustration of the power of music in overcoming long held beliefs and breaking down social barriers.
Takadini is a story of astounding courage. It offers a rare insight into the nature of change in societies and how just a few enlightened people who dare to question, can really make all the difference. 
-Lantern Books
Takadini ranks as one of my favorite books of all time.I loved how the author brought me into such intimate proximity with a character who represented a demographic of people I knew so little about, describing in detail the texture of his skin such that to this day I feel like I have held the hand of a boy with albinism.

After I read it I saw albinos everywhere I went. I worried when I saw them not wearing hats out in the sun, wished I could give them sunscreen, wondered if people were being mean to them and seethed when I saw them shunned. As a person with a penchant for adopting all manner of causes and for finding myself time and again, championing the cause of the underdog, people with albinism then became an object of profound empathy for me. Based on a wonderful little book I read that opened up my eyes to a certain extent I felt very protective of them although I really had no idea what they were going through in the real world and the absolute horror they were faced with in a world of superstition, witchcraft and ignorance. I really had no idea...

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