While it’s getting dark, down on the playground, if a piece of sharp, uneven lawn can be called playground at all, we are waiting for a practise of the football club – Albino United to begin. In the meantime, I watch a pair of black barefoot boys how skilfully beat the ball made of rags. Usually, this would be an ordinary football day for a amateur league, but very soon the African night will take all that ‘ordinary’ in this story. At dusk, headlights of the speeding cars passing by is the only illumination on the dusty playground, and players are still not here.
Photographs and text / Zoran Marinovic
On the bench for the switches made of couple of wooden planks covered with rusted tin, I am sitting with football manager Osko Haule. He is the Man of this club; president, deputy secretary, armorer, assistant, PR. If he was not a bit messy and talkative, we would say a miracle man. In typically African way, with astonishment, he is complaining and beging, a couple of dollars for transport of players, jersey dress of Luka Modric, small donations, sponsorships, assistance … trainers, legwarmers… Then Oska suddenly jumpes, as if someone had scored a goal. We have almost toppled off the bench. Here they are, and he cheers up, as if he did not believe they would come.
Looking at the players of Albino United, it was quite clear that all the luxury that accompanies football will be missed, there won’t be an air-conditioned double-decker buses, or assistants who carry footbalers gear to the 5 star hotels, while players with big white headphones are passing by surrounded by photographers. But again, a scene of twelve players on two tricycles in which one of the four seats is occupied by driver, is a scene that would come to us in Tarantino movie.
In conversation with Osko, we conclude how football is certainly the most minor important thing in the world, but for the players it is much more than a game, even though they compete only in the third tier of Tanzania. Osko proudly compares his players to the Manchester United players called red devils, as Albino United are called black devils in white skin. Once they were called ghosts and now during the game they call them devils. Actually albinos in East Africa are not considered as people at all. Instead, they call them zerui – ghosts. But this nickname is used less often. Lately they have been called ‘money’ alluding how albinos have become valuable source in the impoverished country.
Nature really knows how to be a dirty player, and it plays constantly on the edge of a red card, but albinos have somehow managed to dribble past nature, and playing soccer in the country with the highest measured UV radiation on earth. And not only that.
Although it is known that albinism is due to a lack of pigment in the skin, it is unclear why in Tanzania generates four times more albinos than elsewhere. But apart from nature albinos have to play against the comunity. Superstition. Greed. And it’s even more dangerous game. In that match, the referee was bribed, rivals are doping, the fans are racists, time is running out and the extension is just gimmicky salvation. Welcome to the bench of Albino United!
Kaburu Shafi is the best player of the team. The highlight of his football career was a recent World Cup in South Africa, where he was involved, but not as a player, but as one of the lucky thousands that FIFA, sent to guard a golden trophy to be awarded to the world champions . Kaburu was taken away in a moment and at one point, he wished to kiss the cup, 6 kg of pure gold, and he succeeded, but in the next moment, he was escorted by security out of the stadium and photographers have managed to catch the moment. So Kaburu Shafi entered into legend of Albino United. At least for one day.
Today, he wears two different football shoes out of which one is bigger at least two sizes. It does not matter, only the stars in this team can count on both boots. At least half of the players play barefoot or with one shoe, depending on which leg play better.
And as the night is falling around thesurrounding baobab trees, they must be very careful for the strong desire for the game. They threat is not an injury or robbers, because they do not actually posesss anything. However, they are very sought goods. Their bodies are worth about 50 000 dollars, but not as a possible football transfer, only on the market of black magic. In this poor country they have to fear even from their neighbors. Almost all of our players have the same bad experience, and the same life story, they must be on guard constantly, no one wants to be their friend, they can not go to school.
In Tanzania, there are about 200 000 albinos and almost every day, television broadcast the news of their murders and mutilations. Last year, they found the leg of the Albino man in the refrigerator of one of the leading politicians. And to make things more absurd, even a large number of players paid the wizards who use body parts of albinos in the rituals, to perform better on the playground.
Families with albino children are considered haunted. People continue to believe that having parts of their bodies brings luck and fortune. A sorcerers who in their ritual sacrifice limbs of albinos guarantee a fast money and prosperity. If you have an amulet of albinos fishermen believe they will catch more fish, the miners will be safer, women will find a rich husband, and some believe in the healing of AIDS.
Because of fear and discrimination, many albino people have no opportunity to attend school and live in isolation, spending lives in the greatest poverty. In Arusha, the second largest city in Tanzania, the army must safeguard albinos because they are subjected to terrifying violence.
A few days earlier, we met with one of the famous witch doctors, or as he calls himself a doctor. He is one of the few who did speak up about this issue. His narrow specialization is fear and envy and relationship problems. While a dozen women and a couple of old men are waiting outside his clinic – a small mud hut surrounded by banana trees, Dr. James brings a diagnosis and offers us a cure. I can solve all problems. People come to us every day, and most of these are financial and love problems. Deceived women, and sick old people at the end of their lives. can make any man impotent, I just need to have all the ingredients. Ingredients? If you have a few hundred dollars you can buy a albino finger. And the little finger will be enough for the tremendous power.
Not just a game, we want to win!
Coach John Daniel Longo, is constantly yelling and to a football laic, if any, it is clear that he throws completely banal ‘tips’; he whistles and shouts: jump on the ball, … no, no, no, no, … throw him a ball, only fool can see that the very front of the goal, … Although we suspect that his motives are just no coaching education and passion, and that he would be the only one to have this ‘silly job’ reasons were completely different.
John Daniel Lingoi – my players do not know football well. We need to train in the dark because albinos have skin problems, because of the sun, they often have skin cancer. And half of them have bad eyesight. Half of the team is sick at the moment. That’s why we’re not good in the league. But I will gather this devil albinos and teach them how to play football, because many people in Tanzania love this club.
Coach gets crazier than ever at the games, he doesn’t wants to play only, he wants to win. He wants to convince everyone that they know how to play football. Because as he said later, after the match, amused belief that albinos are incompetent players hurt them more than losing the game.
This benevolent crew decided to fight against injustice by football, despite the fact that they have almost no financial support – not even a ball or sports equipment, nor playground. The international community and several embassies donated some equipment, organized a few games, actually little bit of promise, and that would be it.
Superstition and greed. And football. Albinos are considered as special. Which they certainly are. After the football training, through the dark night, the are walking to their homes. They are aware that they will not gain anything from football, and that each walk home can be very dangerous, in the dark African night. However, for them, dreams are important for them, much more important than the game itself. For sure, albinos will eventually prove to everyone they know how to play football, but it will take more time to prove that they are just ordinary people. And for their humanity, they have long played that game – in the Champions League.
And Oska has recently sent us a message; Police station in Arusha Vs. Albino United 2:3!