That Thursday morning in Lilongwe I had developed fever. The nearest medical redemption, from where I put up two weeks ago, was City Centre Clinic and I had to rush.
There, I met Dr Mwale—quite a jovial old man in his early fifties, I guess.
The first thing I noticed when I entered his office was his impressive understanding of current affairs: He had two dailies, The Nation and Daily Times, on his crammed desk, and a pile of others neatly mount on the corner.
“So you are Ephraim Nyondo from The Nation newspaper”, he retorted after I introduced myself.
I was in deep pain, then, and all I wanted was a quick treatment not a series of questions about journalism. But Dr Mwale was in a different mood.
“Before I treat you Mr Nyondo, there are few things that I want you to help me,” he began while turning to page four of The Nation. There was a picture of a boy with albinism in a hat.
I didn’t respond.
“I am very concerned about this issue about albinism which I feel you guys [journalists] are failing the nation on,” he continued.
“Failing the nation?” I responded still shivering.
“You see, you keep saying ‘Albinos living in hiding’, ‘Albinos being killed’, ‘let’s protect albinos’, and etcetera,” he said while showing me a story titled ‘Albinos living in hiding’.
I wasn’t sure what the medical doctor was trying to advance. But he looked damn serious. Yet I was still shaking—completely consumed by fever.
“What you guys in the media have done is to perpetuate the wrong public perception of people living with albinism. When you say ‘albinos’ are being killed the perception you create is that ‘albinos’ are not humans—like they are certain animals that are being butchered,” he continued.
I started getting his point.
“What is happening should not be portrayed in mass media as ‘killing of albinos’ as you guys are doing it. What we are witnessing is murder of fellow Malawians living with albinism.
“People living with albinism are humans like us. They should not be portrayed as ‘albinos’ because that creates an impression as if they are not part of us. I am not sure if you are getting my point…” he paused.
Still feverish and shaking, I nodded. In fact, I acknowledged that we, in the media, have not been considerate enough in representing the plight of people living with albinism.
“We have just been taken by the wind without asking ourselves how we are reporting about a section of our brothers and sisters in trouble,” I added.
He agreed, and added.
“You see, how we represent people in the public also defines the attitude we give them.
“You have treated people with albinism as others—like not being part of us. That is why you are saying they are being ‘killed’ yet what is happening is pure murder of fellow Malawians,” he explained.
He did not stop.
“It is because we treat our friends and relatives living with albinism as ‘others’ that is why we do not, even in schools, provide them with necessary amenities for them to excel.
“What we have forgotten is that albinism is a biological condition that can happen to everybody. I am sure I have made my point and you will take it up from there,” he said.
Indeed, his point made sense. In my fever, I felt bad to have been part of journalists that have let down friends and relatives living with albinism.
Really, we, in the media, instead of scaling back the discrimination, we have perpetuated it. I stand guilty as charged.
After noting that he had made his point, he took my hand and examined my temperature. Then everything turned medical.
Days later, while still sick, I got back to Blantyre and booked an appointment with my editor, Ephraim Munthali.
We talked in great detail about how we have represented people living with albinism in our stories, and he agreed.
Right away, he promised change in the way stories about people living with albinos would be written. In fact, if you have been keen enough, you can agree with me that there has been a change with the way The Nation has been reporting people living with albinism.
We no longer write ‘albinos speak out’, but ‘People with albinism speak out’.
On Thursday, I met my editor Mr Munthali who told me to extend his appreciation to Dr Mwale. Indeed, that was great Dr Mwale, we appreciate. n