Disability Issues Dr Christine Peta
My name is Tariro and I am 38 years old. When I was a teenager, I started dating Munopa, who later asked me to marry him. But I knew that people hate albinism, so I was not sure if he meant it, so I decided to take him through a few tests.
I would periodically ask him to take a walk with me in the ghetto like in Glen-View high density suburb. When we were walking people would jeer at us shouting “musope, murungu, murungudunhu” (albino, white person, quasi-white person).
I would look at him to see his reaction, and I noted that he didn’t care what people were saying, and I began to believe that he had genuine love for me.
I agreed to go to his rural village where he introduced me to his family who said, “What kind of a daughter-in-law is this? Can she do housework duties that are expected of her as a daughter-in-law in African culture?”
Munopa stood by me and explained that I was the woman that he loved and he wanted to marry me.
After that we went to my aunt and told her that we wanted to get married. Because my father had died, my aunt informed my uncles, but they said it was a joke.
“How can Tariro get married, she is albino, she is abnormal, what man would want a woman like that? We have normal daughters in the family who haven’t even been married, so the whole thing about Tariro is a scam.”
In my desperation, I travelled to the village and spoke to my grandfather, who then negotiated with my uncles. In the end my grandfather and my uncles appointed two of my own brothers to receive the lobola (bride price).
After three weeks I went to my husband’s village for the traditional ceremony of receiving a daughter-in-law into the husband’s family. A few months later, I had a beautiful white wedding and I started to live with my husband.
My husband delivered to my family the cow that is paid to the wife’s family to thank them for raising a morally upright daughter who is found a virgin upon marriage.
I later got pregnant and I went back to live in my maiden home under the African traditional practice of sending a young pregnant married woman back to her parents when she is about to deliver her first child. I delivered a healthy baby boy at a city hospital, our baby was 4,4kg and he has black skin.
When people heard that I had given birth, everyone rushed to see if the child had albinism.
I suffered a lot of stigma, but I was lucky because my husband had a mind of his own. He taught his family that despite the fact that I have albinism, I am his wife and he loves me.
My husband stood by me and helped me to fight the stigma that comes with albinism, he was not ashamed to move around with me.
He would show affection for me in public, he would hug me and if he was going anywhere, he preferred to take me with him. Even at a memorial service of a dead relative, where most of his relatives would be gathered, he would take me with him.
Because of albinism my skin is affected if I cook on an open fire or if I stay in the heat. So when we visited his rural village, my husband would wake me up at 4am, and he would help me to do all the duties that are expected of a daughter-in-law, within an African context.
He would help me to fetch water from the well before sunrise, while everyone was asleep, he would help me to make a fire and he would boil water for people to bath when they wake up. He was covering up for me, so that his family would not laugh at me because of albinism.
ln our culture, when a daughter-in-law is at the in-laws’ homestead, she has to do all the housework to prove that she is a hard worker, otherwise she will be labelled a lazy, good-for-nothing woman and they can influence her husband to divorce her.
At our own home, we did our housework together, my husband helped me clean the house and do other things. He didn’t like fighting with me, if I got angry and shouted at him, he would just keep quiet.
Had it not been for the support I was getting from him, I don’t think I would have survived the marriage.
I remember that when we went for traditional functions, if I cut tomatoes for cooking, people would throw them away. They were afraid that if they used the tomatoes, they would get albinism. They would always be on the lookout for what I touch, if it was food they would throw it away.
The water I fetched from the well, they would make sure that it was used just for washing clothes, not for cooking. My husband would watch them do all these things and we would talk about it later and laugh at their ignorance.
I am one of the lucky few women who have albinism and got married to a husband who genuinely loved and protected her.
I see that with albinism in Zimbabwe, about 92 percent of women with albinism are not married. Most women with albinism are dumped the moment they fall pregnant and they are left to look after the children on their own.
Seven years into our marriage, my husband fell ill and he died, but I will forever be grateful to him for the way he stood by me and helped me to fight the stigma that surrounds albinism. He helped me to survive in a world that hates people who have albinism.
Although my husband was not going to church (he came to church on our wedding day only), I believe he was a true Christian.
He helped me build my self-esteem. Today I sing in the church choir and I hold a high position in the church structure. I lead the WISMO (Widows and Single Mothers) of our church. They call me a “white woman” and we laugh about it, because when I get there I just say “the white woman has come”.
Tariro’s story presents an excellent example of how we should treat people with disabilities if we are to contribute towards making positive individual and societal change.
As we move from exclusion to inclusion, let us learn to embrace and live with disability. As exemplified by Tariro’s late husband, men who genuinely fall in love with women with disabilities should learn to defy social pressure and stand for what they believe in.
Hegemonic constructs of sexuality and desirability should not be allowed to perpetuate the questioning of the suitability of women with disabilities as marital partners.
Borrowing from the perspectives of Shakespeare (2000), rather than struggling to conform and to fit into stereotypes of what beautiful women are, how women should look and behave, men can assist society to challenge stereotypes and to demonstrate that in spite of disability, marriage can be with whatever woman you choose to marry and it can be whatever you want it to be.
Dr Christine Peta is a public healthcare practitioner and holds PhD in Disability Studies. Be part of the international debate on how best to nurture a society which is more accessible, supportive and inclusive of disabled people. Partner with Disability Centre for Africa (DCFA): WhatsApp, 0773-699-229; website, www.dcfafrica.com; e-mail, [email protected]
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