Two sisters from Tanzania visited our gym last week to watch practice and share their stories. Bibiana and Tindi Mashamba are albino. In Tanzania and some other African countries there are people who believe that the body parts of albinos possess magical powers. Six years ago, just days after they had buried their father, some of those people broke into the home where Bibiana and Tindi slept. They cut off one of Bibiana’s legs and two of her fingers. She was eleven years old. Tindi, a year younger, saw the whole thing and was only spared the same fate when the attackers ran before the neighbors could respond to the noise.
Thanks to the African Millennium Foundation, the Mashamba sisters have been relocated to Los Angeles where they can study and Bibiana can get medical treatment. They hope to get an education and share their story to bring awareness to the problems that albinos face in their country. When she talked to us, Bibiana said multiple times, “We are human beings. We are no different than you.” Because when it comes down to it, that's the only reason they were attacked: they look different.
Now, we can all agree that these were inexcusable and heinous acts that were committed. But, don’t we all violate these same principles all the time? How often do we attack someone, even in minor ways, just because they are different? We see their skin or their name or what god they pray to and immediately cast them as the “other”. We draw imaginary lines and call them borders and act as if the people inside them matter more than the ones on the outside. As if being born in a different place, with a different pigment, with a different culture automatically puts us at odds.
I don’t understand how you can ever look at another person and see anything less than yourself—anything other than someone with struggles and dreams, trying to make a path in this world. We don’t need to make it harder for each other. We are all human beings-- you, me and two albino sisters from Tanzania with huge smiles on their faces, watching volleyball for the first time.
For more information you can check out the LA Times article on the Mashambas' story here and the African Millennium Foundation here.