A novel I read during our time in Tanzania was Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan.
It is the story of a young albino man named Habo. Habo’s poor eyesight, something associated with being albino, means he hasn’t learned to read or write. His light eyes, yellow hair and white skin make him the target of his brothers’ cruelty, cause his father to abandon the family, and place his mother and sister in danger because poachers in Tanzania receive top dollar for the body parts of albino people that are thought to bring good luck. One of these poachers is after Habo.
Although I didn’t know it when I chose the book its story begins in a village near Arusha, a city we visited that is not far from where we were based during our time in Tanzania.
Eventually, Habo’s family is forced to leave Arusha and travels across the Serengeti (where we travelled on our safari) to stay with relatives in the city of Mwanza. When the threat from poachers becomes even more imminent there Habo decides to begin a journey all on his own to the city of Dar Salaam where things are not as dire for albino people.
His trip is dangerous and difficult but once there he is befriended by an elderly blind wood carver named Kweli and his life takes a gradual turn for the better.
Golden Boy was published in 2013 when the danger to albino people was at an all-time high in Tanzania. Since then an international outcry has resulted in new laws, stricter policing and a promise of more protection for albino children. However those in outlying villages remain in danger as this article points out.
When we visited the Step by Step Learning Centre in Arusha, the city where the novel character Habo initially lived, we met a young adult albino woman who had been in a horrible home situation where she was traumatized and abused before being adopted and taken in by a kind woman in Arusha who enrolled her at the school.
Her family had told her she was mentally challenged and would never learn to read or write but after being given time to heal from her trauma it turned out she was very intelligent and like Habo does in the book eventually became literate. She has now graduated from the Learning Centre and will be hired as a worker there.
I won’t use her name but it was lovely to see her smiling and looking so happy. She was confident enough to let me take her photo, something Dr Margaret Kenyi, the centre director approved of as well, since she thinks the story of albino children in Tanzania is one that needs to reach as wide an international audience as possible.
I always like to read a book set in a country I am travelling to. I had no idea when I chose Golden Boy just how appropriate and meaningful it would be.