It is hard to imagine that an airline can lose a child. But that's precisely what seems to have happened to a three-year-old albino boy, who was a Kenya Airways passenger flying from Nairobi to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in April. The airline does not seem to know where he went. It's as if he's been lost into the thin air of the tropics. That at least is the conclusion we have arrived at, as we have tried to find out: who he was, where he came from and what might have become of him. And we want to know about his fate because unfortunately to be born an albino in Africa is to invite murderous witch doctors and albino human body parts dealers. We are very concerned for his welfare.
To most of us, if a child is lost in an airport, we hope a kind soul finds her and leads her to authorities, who in turn make every attempt to connect her with her parents. But not when you're an albino in Tanzania or Kenya where some people believe in witchcraft. In particular in Tanzania an albino's arms, legs, heart and liver are considered precious magic potions and albino abductions are common. Albino body parts go for large sums of money in the underground albino body parts market.
I saw the albino child I allude to at Nairobi airport in mid April in the company of three men who were clearly not related to him. Their behavior should have raised alarm bells for most intelligent people. It didn't for me until some time had passed, my excuse being that I'd been gone from Africa for three decades. It seems it raised alarm bells for the African airport workers, for when I saw him the three men were in a heated argument with a Kenya Airways attendant who wanted to know where the child's traveling documents were. How could they have travelled from Tanzania to Kenya without any documents for him, she asked.
In the way some men in Africa have, they scornfully chided her for being an obstruction in their way. Didn't she know they were important travelers headed to Burkina Faso they asked her, all the while sidestepping the issue of the boy's traveling documents. I can feel it now: her voice wilting under the withering assault of the aggressive male travelers and her half-hearted attempts at questioning them. As a man I should have stepped in on her side to bolster her somewhat passive behavior. As a father I should have asked where the boy's mother was; who were his parents and where were they. But I didn't.
It is this regret that has driven my pursuit to find out who this child was and whatever happened to him. I do it because I am human and a parent. And because I now have deep suspicions that this albino boy went the way of many albino children in Tanzania and Africa -- sacrifice to dark beliefs on altars of blood and pain. And because I still hold a wisp of hope that he is still alive. I'd wish everyone who hears about this lost child would seek to find the fate of the boy: Whether he is still alive and well; whether he is being well taken care of. And if he is dead, how he died, and perhaps at least mourn him, and pray for and fight that it does not happen to another albino child.
His image in the clutches of a man, I am now certain meant him no good, haunts me. In my desperation to find him I have talked to and called everyone I can think of. That has included Kenya Airways -- to whom we have made innumerable representations - to tell us who the three men were; where they got the child from and where they went. Are they part of a human trafficking organization? we wonder. Are the police involved? And if not shouldn't they be? Kenya Airways has methods of verifying such data, in addition to TV documentation of the goings on at airports. For some strange reason they have been totally uncooperative. Which makes one wonder -- giving rise to many conspiratorial ideas. It doesn't augur well for confidence in African airlines of which Kenya Airways is one of the best. If they can't ascertain the safety of a child, how can we entrust them with our other valuables.
The journey I have been on to try and find him has been a frustrating one. I have travelled it with albino advocacy groups -- in particular the group, Under The Same Sun . In a few years they have done amazing work in educating Tanzanians about albinism, assisting albino victims of discrimination by the greater black population, supplying skin protection and eyewear -- problems the albinism gene confers on people born with the condition. African Human Rights groups have played a heroic part in trying to pry open Kenya Airways corporate gates, but without avail. No one in a position of power will talk about the three-year-old albino boy. It is as if he has been swallowed up by time and lost to a Kenya Airport Authority given to institutional oblivion.
We talked to the Tanzanian Ambassador in the U.S. Little was the Embassy able to help us in answering questions about one of their own citizens with albinism. It's as if Tanzanian albinos are children of a lesser god.
The point of this is to try to decry Kenya Airways corporate deafness and to wonder about the lack of mercy in the hearts of whoever reads or hears about this poor boy's disappearance. I also hope to gather support for people born with albinism in Tanzania. They are discriminated against for one simple reason: they are different for they have white skins in a world of blackness. I hope anyone who reads this or hears about this boy has the courage and can find the energy and willingness to contact Human Rights groups who can lend their voice and financial wherewithal to right this awful wrong.
My heart aches for the three-year-old albino boy who was betrayed by a nation of adults. Whose trust in us was most likely rewarded with unimaginable cruelty and betrayal. People with albinism are ordinary human beings with aspirations, feelings, hopes, loves and pains. Humans who deserve protection and kindness and our humanity. We can and we must all do better for all the children of this world.