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Albino’s near-death ordeal

MIRRIAM (right) with her mother at Chama District Hospital.

DARLINGTON MWENDABAI, Chama
ON THE night of November 4, 2017, it was like a dream when Mirriam Kumwenda heard a knock on the door, and waking up from slumber, there was a familiar voice calling her name.

While wondering why her teacher friend could be calling her in the middle of the night, suddenly intruders forced their way into the thatched house where she was sleeping.
As the other family members were sleeping, the assailants forcibly dragged the 19-year-old albino into the bush.
From the level of aggression by the assailants, Mirriam, of Chikwa village in Chama district, was certain that Saturday night was her last day on earth.
When they reached the scene of bloodshed, the assailants chopped off her right hand, and left Mirriam for dead in an unconscious state.
Mirriam, who is five months pregnant, lost a lot of blood, and only God knows how she came out of a coma in the bush where she had been abandoned.
What landed her in trouble is her skin pigmentation. Ritualists believe the body parts of albinos have mystical powers which could boost their business fortunes.
The wound on the mutilated hand was so bad that Mirriam had to spend a month in Chama District Hospital.
Actually, Mirriam could have lost both arms because initially, the assailants had attempted to cut off her left hand.
But before the blade went deep into the girl’s flesh, one assailant shouted, “Wrong hand.”
By road, Chikwa village, where the teenager resides, is about three hours away from Chama town centre.
Mirriam, a Grade Seven pupil at Mangwere Primary School, is five months pregnant.
Her uncle Adon Kumwenda says it was heart-breaking for the family to learn of Mirriam’s near-death experience in which she lost her right hand.
Mr Kumwenda, however, said they are happy that the girl is alive.
Mirriam has an albino sister, Wyness, mother of a year-old baby. The family wants to send the two sisters to Lusaka because their safety in the Chama-Lundazi area is not guaranteed.
Albinos are on the wanted list of ritual killers for their body parts which are reportedly sold across the border in Malawi or Tanzania.
In fact, Mirriam’s mutilated hand was recovered at the point of sell in Malawi. The suspect, who was attempting to sell it, is in police custody.
According to Mr Kumwenda, the attack on Mirriam was well planned, because some of the suspects in the matter are well-known people.
He said one of the five suspects, a Mr Nyirenda, a teacher at Mangwere Primary School, befriended Mirriam prior to the attack.
“Mirriam and her sister Wyness were sleeping when she heard a knock on the door and later a familiar voice started calling her, asking her to go out. She hesitated, but in the twinkling of an eye, someone forced himself in the house, pushed a cloth in her mouth and carried her to a nearby bush like a lamb meant for slaughter,” Mr Kumwenda said.
When they reached the scene of slaughter, more ritual killers clad in black, armed with scalpels, were on hand to receive the girl and end her life.
“Without hesitation, they reached for her left hand and started chopping it, but one of them shouted, ‘Wrong hand!’ Then they started chopping her right hand,” he said.
Mirriam doesn’t know how she survived her ordeal. But she recalls that one of the assailants hit her on the head and back with an unknown object and she fell unconscious.
Obviously, she survived because the attackers did not go for internal body organs.
Mirriam does not remember how long she lay unconscious, except that she woke up around 01:00 hours.
When she tried to cry for help, no one could hear her.
With blood oozing from the wound, she dragged herself back to the village. Her distress call was strong enough to wake her mother and step-father. In no time, the other villagers came out of their huts.
Wyness was surprised to learn that her elder sister, whom she had been sharing a bed with, was forcibly taken out without her knowledge.
By midday, an ambulance arrived in Chikwa village to take the girl to Chama District Hospital.
After a month, she was discharged from hospital. Mr Kumwenda said in December, the family received news that some of the suspects had been arrested. Among the five suspects is a well-known teacher and a named community member.
One of the suspects was arrested in Malawi while trying to sell the mutilated hand to a businessman of that country.
“Mirriam is pregnant and she has a boyfriend who is a teacher. It was shocking but not surprising to learn that he was also involved in the attack,” one of the teachers at Mangwere Primary School said.
She said it was clear that Mirriam’s teacher boyfriend gave her away to the ritualists.
And Chama District Commissioner Leonard Ngoma said the attack on Mirriam sent shock waves in the district.
“Luckily, she did not lose her memory or pregnancy during the attack. The Albino Foundation of Zambia led by John Chiti has shown interest in adopting Mirriam and her sister, Wyness,” Mr Ngoma said.
He said his office will facility the travel of Mirriam and her sister to Lusaka.
The district commissioner condemned the attacks on albinos by people who want to end their lives due to the belief that their body parts have magical powers.
Mr Chiti travelled to Chama on November 24, 2017, when the Albino Foundation of Zambia learnt about Mirriam’s attack.
He confirmed that the foundation wants to adopt Mirriam and Wyness. The girls’ family has given consent.
Mr Chiti spent four days in Chama to sensitise Chama residents that there was nothing supernatural about people with albinism.
Albinism just means lack of or low production of melanin, a pigment which gives colour to the skin, hair, eyes, eyebrows and eyelashes. This means albinos are not supernormal, neither do their body parts possess mystical powers as ritual killers believe.
The Medical News Today, a medical newsletter, says albinism affects about 1 in 17,000 people globally.
About one in 5,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa have albinism, while in America and Europe the ratio is 1 in 20,000 people.

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