Last Sunday, I returned to the spot where I met Jaffari. I had came with glad tidings. Some readers of Jaffari’s story driven by compassion sent me mobile money to help him start his dream business. But he was not there, I stood confused. As I turned to leave, there was a young man in his mid-twenties that was staring and smiling at me.
“Hi, Madam.” He said.
“Hi,” I smiled back.
I looked at his shoes, the Converse All Star shoes had seen many many days, they were dirty and torn, in fact, some of his toes were peeping, his T-shirt and jeans were pale with age.
I sat next to him on a park bench at the KCCA gardens opposite Watoto Church and asked him why he was being nice to me.
“I saw you dressed in a kitenge top, so I imagined that you sing in the choir, I thought to myself, this must be a holy woman.”
I laughed out loud.
“I would chase away the worshippers with my terrible voice. What is your name?” I asked.
“How can I tell you my name when I don’t know yours?”
“Prudence,” I replied. “What is yours?”
“You told me one name so I will also tell you only one.” He said stubbornly.
“Mine is Onyango.”
After exchanging pleasantries, I found out that he was homeless, we chattered away as he chewed mairungi one leaf at a time. I am now curious to know the story behind this chirpy human.
“Tell me about life on the streets,” I asked.
There was a long silence as he pressed his knuckles and then began to speak.
“These streets have taught me that humans are dangerous, men are dangerous, women are dangerous. I have seen with my own eyes a woman throw away her child that looked no more than three months one morning when I was on my way to work, I called after her but she ran with all her might like a ghost was chasing after her. She disappeared into the crowd never to be seen again. But that doesn’t mean that people are bad. I believe that on a scale of 100, 30 are evil and 70 are good. But as for me, I am the lost son, I don’t understand myself, I take drugs, I smoke anything that confuses my head. Anything that takes my mind away from the troubles of this world.” He said as he picked a leaf of mairungi from a small black polythene bag. He put the mairungi in his mouth escorting it with pink chewing gum in a red wrapper with yellow words “Big G” inscribed on it. Occasionally sipping an energy drink in a blue bottle.
“I am a lost son because I am 26 years but I am a waste. I can’t even help anyone. No one needs me. I have terrible friends – all they do is buy me Waragi. I get this Mairungi for free from a lady that I help in Nakasero market. You see, this mairungi, when you chew it, it can change you into someone else. The women will look more beautiful. You are seated on the streets and when you chew the leaves, when the women pass by in their little beautiful dresses you want to jump on them. You feel like running and stealing someone’s phone and run into the crowd.
“Eh,’ I say turning to stare at him in the eye, he knows that he has put himself up for judgment and to rescue himself, he says,
“I respect women so those are just bad thoughts that cross my mind.”
He picked another leaf of mairungi from the black polythene bag in his left hand and chewed it. Three girls in their 20’s came and stood in front of us, paused for photos and selfies before they sat on the opposite bench.
“Have you tried to go back home?” I asked curiously.
Lowering his voice so that the girls don’t eavesdrop our conversation, he replied,
“Yeah, last year, I went back home determined never to return to the city but my first night at home, I had a dream and in my dream, I saw a woman that had died many years ago, have you ever seen a dead person in your dream?”
I nodded in the affirmative.
“She strangled me in my dream. I tried to scream but I couldn’t scream. I called the name of Jesus with my mind, “Jesus, Jesus” I called out louder and louder. I then woke up. I was angry and scared. I spent one hour awake. I fell asleep again and the same dead woman that I had seen in my dream came this time determined to kill me. I woke up again. I was angry, I was disturbed. I told my mother and she said that she had been praying for me. I was scared to sleep at night. I told her that I wanted to go to my grandmother’s house. At my grandmother’s home, I slept soundly on the first night. But then on the second night, this dead woman that appeared in my dreams came back this time with a stick as if to beat me. I woke up. I told my grandmother about the dream that was tormenting me – she said that I was crazy. The following morning, I was on the bus to Kampala because it seems that after all these years, the streets are my home.
The girls left.
“How long have you been on these streets?” I asked.
He lifted his left hand indicating three fingers.
“Three years,” he said. “Three years on these streets. I sleep around the Kampala Casino, under a tree. Now imagine when it rains and you are in your house, you look for an extra blanket to cover yourself. For me when it rains, I run across the street and if the rain is heavy, water that is flowing from other streets chases me off the veranda. This is when I despair, this is when I feel like taking my life. But then I sit and chew my mairungi until morning. I work at Nakasero market. I lift boxes of mangoes and I am paid 300 shillings for every box that I lift. I eat one meal a day, once a week at a bathroom at the old park, I pay 1000 shillings to bathe. I have to keep myself clean because when I am dirty, everyone that bypasses me holds their bag tight. Sometimes, I hear them say omubbi wuuyo.
“Are you a thief?” I asked.
“No no no I am not a thief. I love people, I don’t want to hurt anyone that is why I don’t like to steal from people.”
He is fluent in English so I asked how in the world he came to the streets.
“I was in senior three when I dropped out of school, I was performing very well, I was the leader of the debating club at Standard High School in Lira, my uncle was taking care of me, but that is why I told you that I am a lost son. I threw it away for a job. I got a job to work as a casual labourer at the Arab contractor’s Construction Company. The wages were good – I was being paid sixty thousand shillings per week. When I put my mind to something, I work really hard at it and we Langis are hard working people. The bosses noticed my hard work and brought me to Kampala to work on a construction project in Kira. My wages were increased to seventy-two thousand shillings a week. I saved about nine hundred thousand shillings. At the construction site in Kampala, I met friends who introduced me to drinking alcohol. We drunk too much and partied hard. One Friday evening, I was at a bar and the next time I woke up – I was at home on a Monday morning. I was holding a bucket full of water in one hand on my the bathroom when my phone rung. My boss was calling me wondering where I was because I was the only one that knew how to wash the machine that mixes concrete and that work was stalling because I hadn’t gone to work on time. I abandoned whatever I was doing and run back to the house. I dressed up quickly and run to work. My bosses warned and told me that it would be the last. But I continued hanging out with my friends, I drunk too much, I skipped work again and again and I was fired. I knew that the money I had saved was going to save my life. But because I didn’t have an income, the money dwindled shilling by shilling. I started to panic. I paid rent for three months hoping to get a secure job. I was now desperate. I never was able to raise money to pay for another month. That is when the landlord kicked me out. I moved into my friend’s house – those friends that introduced me to waragi. Once when we were drunk, they told me that they were tired of me. I understood what they were going through because taking care of an abled bodied adult is difficult. In the morning, they asked me to leave. Three years now, I have been hoping that I can get a stable job but I have lost all hope.
“Hope is such an expensive thing to lose,” I said, “What would you do if life handed you a second chance?” I asked.
“Me?” his eyes glistened. “Oh-oh, you don’t want to know. I would go back to school. I have regretted millions and millions of times why I left school yet I had school fees. Even at 50 years, I will still go back to school. I want to be a teacher not just to teach primary school kids but a secondary school teacher. I used to be a good public speaker. My English was better than this. What I am speaking now is terrible English. I know that I can be a good teacher or even a lecturer at the University but now my head is full of many things – waragi, mairungi and cigarette smoke and all those funny things.”
“It is never too late,” I said. “You know the Kenyan guy that went back to school at 80 and Bobi wine too used to smoke ganja now he is a Member of Parliament.”
“You are funny.” he laughed out loud. “At 80, your head is rusted,” he said.
“Secondly, if going back to school fails, one of my dreams is to serve God. But there is no way I can serve the Lord when I am not saved. I need to stop smoking these things. But then also, I bathe once a week and I am always dirty and stinking.”
“Yes, you can serve the Lord the way you are and I don’t think you stink.” I started preaching.
“If I fail on either of those two, then I will know that my life is over. I will know that I threw away the life that was given to me.”
Good Samaritans or is it Ugandans out there, let us buy for Robert a shirt a trouser and shoes so that he can go to church next Sunday. He plans on asking the pastor to show him in which ministry he can serve. He needs UGX 40,000 (12 USD). Or you can give him a shirt, T-shirt I am not sure about his shoe and trouser size.
I collected 90,000 Shillings in total. Thank you Esther Kalenzi, Doris Nahabwe , Rosette Babirye for your generosity. The balance, he requested to buy a bible. Who knows, maybe this life might change for the good. A person wiser than me recently said, a man needs a little push sometimes.