The subject of this column started as a journey to educate ELIZABETH OHENE on a subject on which she was not at all well informed. I have been following the story of Albinism in Africa and the horror stories of people with albinism in Tanzania in particular, first with deep scepticism and then with growing dismay.
I was totally unaware that “OFLI DZATO” as we called albinos, or to call them by the proper nomenclature, “people with albinism”, were discriminated against in our society. Two weekends ago, I heard about a pair of Albino twin young ladies who are both accountants.
I set out to meet the two young ladies and, in the event, stumbled upon a most enchanting story of a most exhilarating family. It is my pleasure, therefore, to introduce you to the Yakor Family, the three elder children, a set of twin girls followed by a boy are people with albinism and the last boy and the parents are like other black Ghanaians.
Dzifa Afua Yakor, nee Ayeke, the matriarch
The story starts on April 26, 1983 in the delivery ward of the 37 Military Hospital in Accra. Her husband, Francis Komla Yakor, had left for Nigeria soon after she got pregnant.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, she was told to expect twins but was a bit startled when the doctor asked her in the delivery room when the first baby was appearing, if her husband was a white man. “No”, she said firmly, the doctor told her: “you are having white babies” and within five minutes of each other, she was delivered of two girls.
The next day, a nurse looked in and muttered, “Albino twins” and then said to her: “woman next time, pray”. She brought her children home, word went round she had white children and her in-laws and neighbours came and silently looked at the babies and many stopped just short of saying to her face the babies must have a white father. One visitor called her girls “Golden Twins” and she adopted that as their name.
She recalled conversations with her late grandmother who had told her there had been an albino born to an aunt in the family who had died early. She proceeded to read all she could find about the condition and she knew she had to protect her children from the sun. She made sure they always wore long sleeves and high necked tops and hats if they went outside.
Someone suggested she should place the twins in the Osu Children’s Home and rid herself of them. She took them with her everywhere she went. Her husband came back, appeared stunned and overwhelmed and then became an enthusiastic and supportive husband and father.
Working with an airline, Sun lotions became the most constant items in his luggage when he travelled. The children started school and she transformed into a protective hawk, making frequent journeys to school to tell off teachers who would dare discriminate against her Golden Twins. The next child she had, a boy, also came as a person with albinism and the one after him turned out black like she and her husband.
The Yakor girls; Mawusi and Mawunyo
Mawunyo & Mawusi (The Golden Twins)
They grew up knowing their mother insisted they wore hats and they got blisters on their skins if they stayed in the sun. At school, they had difficulties reading what was written on the blackboard and always had to sit on the front row. They had to endure endless visits to opticians and ophthalmologists and tried numerous glasses of all shapes and sizes and now accept bad eyesight comes with their albinism condition.
They discovered early that children could be very cruel, but the most dramatic manifestation was when they arrived on campus of Benkum Senior High School, chosen by their parents because Larteh was cool and better for their skin.
No dormitory would accept them and no senior student would be School Mother to them. Finally, one girl took them and it meant the two of them had to share the top of the one girl’s bunk bed for the whole of their first year as no one else would agree to have them on top of their bed.
“Luckily we have each other” and as they were academically strong, they were popular with teachers.
They couldn’t take part in any sporting activities because of the danger posed by the sun rays. And they desperately wanted to join in the March 6 schools march past, but couldn’t. On days like that, they felt terribly different and left out.
After secondary school, they went to Accra Polytechnic and did HND Accounting and then went to University of Cape Coast (UCC) for “top-up” and graduated with BSc Commerce.
Both are working as Auditors in the Auditor General’s Department. Their plans to write the exams to become chartered accountants have been interrupted by love and marriage. Mawusi has two sons, aged four and two and Mawunyo has a three-year-old son. They finish each other’s sentences; they live with their husbands in their parents’ homes and are now playing active roles in albinism groups. Mawunyo delivered a speech to a UN group on Albinism in New York last February.
I spoke with him via Skype from his current home in the USA, he has a high-profile job with Deloitte, the accounting firm, having taken eight months to do all the exams and become a chartered accountant last year. He didn’t think it was a big deal; the academic part of school was always easy for him. It was not being allowed to play football or join in all the other boys’ games that hit him hard; and never being able to see what was written on the board even when he sat on the front row.
He would be forever grateful to the teacher who gave him his notes before classes and the one who wrote out the exam questions on a sheet of paper so he did not have to keep getting up to walk to the board during the exam and incur the displeasure of his mates and still not be able to decipher the words on the board.
He was very good in the science subjects but accepted his father’s advice that his bad eyesight would be a handicap and so pursued accountancy and is happy with it. He realised he did not have the advantage of having a twin like his sisters; had to put up with intense loneliness, so he went out to make friends and was very satisfied when he campaigned and was elected overwhelmingly as Senior Prefect of Okuapeman School.
There were tricky situations during teenage and early adult years; it is not pleasant to hear a girl tell you she cannot marry “a person like you”. He tells a story of having travelled from University of Cape Coast to visit a girlfriend at Legon. As they walked along the street in front of one of the halls, students who were standing on the balcony shouted out : “Beauty and the Beast”. He narrated this incident with loud guffaws.
While at UCC, he tried the SAT exams, achieved high marks and got good scholarships and went to an American university. The atmosphere in the USA is easier for a person with his condition. He reckons the Americans have learnt how to cope with minority groups and people don’t stare at you quite so much. He is able to drive in spite of being very short sighted, because it is more orderly on the roads there. It is easier to function generally because it is a better organised society. But he thinks his heart is in Ghana and sees himself here eventually.albinos1 The Yakor boys; Nutifafa and Dotse
Dodzi Dotse (Baby Last)
Someone once asked him if he was adopted because he is “different” from his siblings. He knows he comes from the same biological stock as his elder siblings… “the gap tooth is the family signature and I have the same as the three of them. I did not need sunscreen and hats and long sleeve shirts. They all wore glasses and I didn’t, but I went to Okuapeman as my brother, became Senior Prefect like him, have gone to the same American university with scholarship as him and I am on the way to becoming an accountant as the three elder siblings.”
Francis Komla Yakor, (Patriarch)
I wanted to be an accountant and it did not turn out that way, and so I encouraged my children to do accountancy. It is a profession they can pursue without too much hindrance from the albinism condition. I am looking forward to all of them becoming chartered accountants. I am the chief driver in the family now and I ferry everybody everywhere and fit it all in with my consultancy work. We discovered very late that the albinism gene is in my family also and not just in my wife’s family. I am lucky in the wife I have.