As human as the rest of us
"Why are you looking so bored, my dear?"
This was a question from my concerned father, who added: "Is there something bothering you?"
I had just entered the house. I found my father at the kitchen table.
His question startled me. I was not aware that I had carried my nervousness all the way from school.
I just stood there, like a scared animal. I looked at my father without uttering a word.
He did not take the matter any further but stood up and continued making something for us to eat. It gave me a chance to sneak away to my room. I shut the door, leaned on it and sighed with relief.
Sweat was pouring down my face. What was wrong with me? Why was I brooding? How could a new pupil at our school, with a different skin colour, my new desk-mate, unsettle me so much?
Later, my father asked me again: "Are you sure you are alright?"
I assured him that there was nothing wrong with me and lied that maybe I had just been hungry earlier.
Outside were my sisters. They were laughing.
"I saw an albino sitting next to you in your classroom. Where does she come from?" Hulisani, one of my sisters, enquired excitedly.
I was slightly dumbstruck.
"Eh, an albino!"
And they all laughed hysterically.
I was rescued by my mother, who firmly asked my sisters what was amusing them so much. I told her about my new classmate.
My mother said: "Is she not a human being, just like you and everyone else?"
But my sisters laughed, regardless.
Later, at dinner, my father suggested that we play Scrabble.
While we were playing my father said to my mother: "Maybe Tshilisanani will tell you what is bothering her."
Before I could say anything, Hulisani burst out laughing and said that I had been sitting with an albino in class. To my surprise, my father laughed too.
I wished that the earth would crack open so that I could dive in and hide.
I was relieved when my father regained his composure and said: "My child, my family, we should not be disturbed by our fellow human beings who look different."
He said that people with albinism, not "albinos", have skin cells that differ from those of other people with normal pigmentation.
"Your new classmate is a human being, with the same blood and everything else, and is as intelligent as anyone else."
My mother said, emphatically: "Yes. Tell them my dear. There is nothing wrong with a person with albinism. We must accept people just the way they are."
My sisters were totally surprised. A few days later my new friend visited us. My father had invited her, secretly. We discussed albinism with her.
Since then I have been able to put aside all my misconceptions about this inherited condition, which prevents a person producing normal colouring of the skin, hair and eyes.
I have taken it on myself to help my sisters and schoolmates to understand albinism, to accept those who are living with the condition and to assure them that albinism is manageable.
lThe author is a 17-year-old grade12 pupil at Ligege Secondary School, in Dhuthuni village near Thohoyandou, Limpopo. She is the winner of this year's National Schools Essay Competition, the topic for which was albinism. The competition was sponsored and organised by Sowetan, the Albinism Society, the Development Bank and the provincial health and education departments.