Standing at Watoto Church downtown, I saw him, he woke up, stretched himself and I crossed the road and walked towards him. I greeted him in English. He grinned and gave me a ghastly look. It is 7:00 am on a cloudy morning. I am early for a scheduled meeting. I have always wanted to tell stories of the homeless in Kampala but I had no Idea where to start from. I smiled at him, he clenched his teeth. I held my breath. He is trying to put on socks. I cut to the chase. “My name is Prudence and I would like to know your story.” He looked at me and shook his head he then examined me with his eyes from my feet to the tip of my hair.
” Is this where you slept last night, or did you wake up so early to come to town.” I asked.
“This is where I slept. ” he said.
He was silent. I waited for him to speak.
“Alright let me leave you alone,” I said.
He shook his head and asked whether I speak Luganda.
“OK let me tell you my story. This is my home. I lived with my Grandfather in Mbale since I was a baby. I never saw my parents but I was told that they were in this City, one day when I was thirteen, my brother who was fifteen told me all these stories about Kampala, how there is a lot of money. He knew this because he spent most of his time in the trading centre listening to these stories. In my mind, I fantasised about Kampala, for me, Kampala was full of money trees and it was the only escape route from poverty. I pictured a life where I don’t have to tell lies to get food. I asked my Jajja to lend me a piece of land for a season. I planted rice, I am sure you know that in Mbale rice does well. I sold two bags of rice at 30,000 Shillings. My brother convinced my grandfather that we were going to find our parents in Kampala. We hit the road. After a long journey, I saw tall buildings nothing like what I had imagined, it was more. When we disembarked, all of a sudden, I turned my head but I couldn’t see my brother, the crowd had swallowed him. I started to cry. A woman asked me what the matter was, I told her that I was looking for my brother, I stayed in the same spot for hours waiting for him to come back looking for me. But he never came back. I started to look for him. For days I searched that is when I realised that Kampala was a big place.
After a few days of roaming the streets, I met a boy my age he became my best friend. Unfortunately, when I was arrested once for being idle and disorderly, when I came back, I never saw my friend again. I don’t know whether he went back to Kenya where he had come from, but every Friday, I go back to the area where we used to hang around. I call it ‘ekijukizo’ “memorial place’ I sit there for hours thinking about my friend and what we went through and hope that one day he will come back to look for me. It was tough then but I felt like I had a family.
As I grew older, I realised that it was time to work hard. I have done all sorts of jobs, I have vended apples but during a city council operation, the mechanise was taken – my boss was furious and he fired me. I got a job to call people on the streets to buy clothes at the market near the old taxi park. This wasn’t working, I wanted a real skill. I started working on buildings as a porter, every week, I was given twenty thousand Shillings. There are times, I worked, from the foundation to the top floor and I never got paid. I blame myself too. I don’t know how to save money. Once, I got 200,000 shillings. I spent all of it because I had hope that I was going to get more money. I rented a place, but my months were soon out and I the landlord threw me out. Someone came and took us to Hoima in western Uganda to work on a farm, I worked three months with no pay at all. I walked back to Kampala.
Right now, my future looks bleak but one thing I am sure of is, I am getting off these streets. I have my hands, I have my feet, I have my brain. I will work hard and I will get off the streets.’
It starts to rain so we run across the street to the veranda of Watoto Church. He is shaking from the cold.
“You wake up one-morning things are going well and the next day, everything is gone, you sleep healthy and in the morning you wake up sick, you have your favourite hen and the next morning it is dead. That is life right?” he said.
I was curious to know whether he visits church since where he spends his nights right in front of the church.
“I see people go, I don’t go to church; it is you people that go to church. You privileged people those that God loves, I have no reason to. If he really cared, I wouldn’t be on the streets. Day after day, night after night for ten years now. I am on these streets, so let’s say, that if he is there, he doesn’t know me.”
At this moment, I don’t know how to respond to this one. But as I am thinking of what to say, he says as if to retract his statement.
“You know what? Maybe there is a God, that protects me when I am sleeping on these streets.”