Living in the Shade: Aiming for the Summit by Nahida Esmail
“Living in the Shade: Aiming for the Summit,” by Nahida Esmail, taught me about a lifestyle and a plight against thousands of people that previously I had no knowledge of. Through the writing, I found the characters very relatable. I found myself rooting for a cause that I didn’t even know needed my support just minutes before reading. Although there were a few parts that felt out of touch, “Living in the Shade: Aiming for the Summit,” showed me a perspective on life that involves very real danger in the form of an endearing children’s novel that centers around friendship, acceptance, and trust.
In order to fully discuss this book, there needs to be some background established. The of the plot is Tanzania in 2013. The book dives into the story of people living with albinism in Tanzania. There is a rather high number of people in this area that struggle with this disorder that involves bad vision and a lack of melanin. In many peoples’ beliefs in Tanzania the limbs and bodies of people that are albino are considered to help bring good luck and prosperity, according to local witch doctors. This has led to attacks on albino children and adults across the land. People are being killed and dismembered, just to be sacrificed. This story specifically follows Tatu, a girl growing up in Tanzania being albino. She is on a soccer team with other girls that are albino or supporters of albinism. This soccer team serves as a support group to protect children with albinism from the dangers of the world. There are many stereotypes that the book points out against people with albinism. Tatu and her teammates decide to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to spread awareness that people with albinism aren’t limited by their disease, and they are just like any other normal person that deserve just as equal a shot at life. Along the climb, half of the team is kidnapped by the same politician who sponsored the soccer team’s trek up the mountain. This sponsorship was just a trap to kidnap the albino soccer team and sacrifice them. The story ends with the half of the team, including Tatu, that didn’t get kidnapped using social media to spread awareness of their missing friends. Eventually they find their friends, punish the bad guys, and spread even more awareness than they thought was possible on albinism, and the idiocrasy that is human sacrifice of any kind of person, due to their climb and their friends getting kidnapped.
There are three messages that I think the book successfully conveys. These make the book more than worth the read for any children or parent alike, in my opinion. The first lesson is on friendship. The book points to many different occasions when these girls that have been outcast from their disease can come together and find happiness and love in their friendships with each other. The second lesson is on acceptance. Esmail does a great job at highlighting many different stereotypes around people with albinism and how they are wrong. She does this buy making the characters relatable. It was very clear in this book that the children were just like any other children. This lesson of acceptance also extended into nature at many parts in the book. I loved Esmail’s connection between people with albinism and the ivory industry with elephants. The girls soccer team is also trying to raise awareness to stop poaching. They find a lot of similarities with themselves and the elephants so they use their platform to spread awareness about both. Neither elephants or people should be killed for their ivory skin or tusks. The third and final lesson that I think was very important, but not as big of a plot point until the end, was trust. The lesson is to only trust the people that have your back. The group of girls blindly lead a politician into a trap that almost had them killed. It is important to question everyone from peers to authorities.
I did have one thing that was hard for me to read in the book. This was the references to social media that felt out of touch and all to frequent. To me it felt as if Esmail was trying to make this book relevant for a younger audience. However, she wasn’t as successful with her use of hashtags in the same way a middle-aged mom would. The references to Instagram or the times the group would stop to take a selfie were at least once in every chapter. I do understand that social media plays a huge role in this story, but the use of it just felt forced at times. There was one point at the end of the story where the girls were worried about their friends being killed but they begin to get more excited about their post about their friends starting to trend. It felt as if the way it was written they were more excited to be internet-famous. Saying this, I realize, this could just be my interpretation as an American in his 20’s. This could very well be how technology and social media is viewed and talked about in Tanzania for this specific age group. I do not think that this took away from the story enough to make me change my opinion on liking the story a lot.
Overall, the fact that I had no idea these terrible things were being done to people with albinism in Tanzania is ridiculous, and makes this book a huge success. It does a great job at spreading awareness on people that deserve acceptance and explaining life lessons that anyone could benefit from. “Living in the Shade: Aiming for the Summit,” by Nahida Esmail is a great book at showing how we are all just people at the end of the day. We should try harder to find common ground.
Esmail, Nahida. Living in the Shade: Aiming for the Summit. Mkuki Na Nyota, 2017.