I Am The Lost Son

I Am The Lost Son

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?”

“James.”

“James who?”

“You told me one name so I will also tell you only one.” He said stubbornly.

“Nyamishana.”

“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.

UPDATE:

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.

 

  Homeless Kampalans – Jaffari’s Story

  Homeless Kampalans – Jaffari’s Story

 After three years in Luzira prison, Jaffari is back to his spot in the city. Back to homelessness. Back to sleeping under the bare sky. Unsure of where to start from.  Prison gave him food and shelter, but the streets give him hope and freedom. The a 23-year-old narrates his story.

“ My father run away to another town leaving my mother with hardly nothing to take care of my siblings and I. My uncle took me in when I was four but life was tough, many nights we went hungry. I started school at Buyaya Primary school in Mbale. But you know how those village schools are. It was difficult to concentrate in class on an empty stomach. In Primary five, I dropped out of school. I was eight going onto nine, I started collecting maize stems for a man in my village.  I got paid and I escaped from my uncle’s home, took a taxi and came to Kampala.

The taxi dropped me at Nakasero market.

The first weeks, I was wandering around the city as I familiarised myself with the place. Good thing, it was Ramadan, at the mosque, they served iftar everyday. When Ramadan was over, I scavenged for empty plastic bottles and sold them to get some money for food.

Months later, because I frequented the mosque, I met a woman that asked to take me to her home as houseboy. We agreed that she would be paying me 40,000 shilling a month and that she would keep for me the money until I was ready to go. A year alter,  she introduced me to vending boiled eggs. I sold eggs for two years, every day, I took back home 20,000 shillings. She was happy with me. I was content since she was buying me clothes and giving me shelter.

When I was thirteen years, I felt like I had mastered this egg business. I asked her to give me my savings for the three years I had been at her house. She told me that her kids were going back to school so I should be patient. I waited for another month, I was growing impatient. I think my pestering wore her out.  She kicked me out of her house.

Luckily, I had made friends on the streets so I went back to one of my buddies who connected me to a man, I started hawking Samosas but I was sick and tired of the cat and mouse chases with the City Council authorities.

I decided it was time to get a less risky business. I went to Kiseka market where I got a job to vend sugarcane. It is my thing. I have mastered it. I saved and bought a wooden wheelbarrow and started my own business. It was thriving. I had a glimpse of a life free from poverty. But then something happened, I got into a fight with someone who was also into the sugar cane business in Kampala. I punched him in the wrong place. I was taken to Luzira prison for assault where I spent three years. I have just come back. I am still figuring out where to start from. The thing is, I am a believer. I know that this will soon be over. I hope that when I have saved up money, I can return to my sugar cane business. It was earning me money.”

“How much do you need to start this business?” I asked.

“Two hundred thousand shillings would be enough for me because all I need is a wooden wheel barrow, sugar cane and a knife.” The 23-year-old Mafabi Jaffari said.

“I have a plan”

“I have a plan”

” I have ever made 100 dollars. You know how? Someone hooked me up with a white man at the Sheraton that wanted my services, he was going to pay me well. I was 19 and I was hot. I thought 20,000 shillings maybe. So I put on my best clothes and there I was at the Sheraton. When I was done giving him the service, he told me to pick from a bundle of money in his coat pocket. I had never seen such money before.  So, I went to that forex bureau at the casino that operates all night. When I exchanged the money, it was about two hundred something thousand shillings. Well, I don’t remember exactly but all I know is it was a lot of money. I was happy. I rented a new place, bought a plastic carpet, bought new covers for my 2-inch mattress and a kerosene stove. But rumor moves quickly around here. One of the popular guys Hamza said that he wanted to talk to me in private. He took me to that other side of Bwaise where there is a boxing club. He took me to a room. I thought he wanted sex. No, he wanted my money. He said that someone told him that I keep money in my knickers. That I cut my knickers, sew an extra cloth on top and hide money inside. Yeah its true but I had told one friend so clearly she didn’t keep the secret. We know each other around here so word goes around.

“Where is the money?” He asked.

“Which money?”

“They told me you made a lot of money.”

“I don’t have any money.”

I wanted to run, his one hand gripped my arm and the other reached for my knickers, he wanted to pull them off. He threw me down. He was on top of me. His one hand tugging at my knickers. He held my mouth, every time he released my mouth, I screamed. I was trying to tell him that I didn’t have the money. I had hidden the remaining money in the new stove that I had bought. He instead grabbed my mouth and my nose, I could feel life leaving me. I surrendered. I knew that was it. He suddenly released me and rushed out of the room. I didn’t tell anyone about what had just happened. I didn’t see Hamza for a long time. Years later, he came back, he asked to see me, he said that he wanted to apologize to me. I accepted to see him. He was splashing money around. I guess when he was away, he was robbing people, he was known here for terrorizing people in those rich neighborhoods. I hated him but I was scared that If I don’t go to see him, he might kill me. You know what? Hamza was killed last year while breaking into a woman’s house in Kazo.  The woman hit him with a metallic object on his head.  I sometimes dream about him and yet that was 2004.

I was 17 I when I came here. I deliberately refused to go to school. My mother wasn’t rich, but she could afford to take me to school. I wish I had an opportunity to tell the girls that deliberately refuse to go to school. I would tell them my story. But I guess the tears of my mother have cursed me. In the 13 years I have been here, I have never had peace. I have a man that I stay with, I stay with him because he protects me from rapists and people like Hamza. When I was pregnant with this baby, he used to beat me every night. Three days before giving birth, he threw me in that sewage stream. Everyone here knows me as  that woman who they beat every night. Our home was also a bar, he brought women, gave them beer from my bar and refused to pay. He went away with them and come back that following morning. When I gave birth, he played very loud music and continued to beat me.

I thank God that he lost his job. He had a job with KCCA to excavate rubbish stuck in sewage channels. When he lost the job, the beatings stopped and he doesn’t play loud music anymore. He sold the music system. Now he takes care of the baby when I have gone to work. Yeah, he knows the kind of work I do. When I come back home in the morning, he asks “Have you brought me something to eat?” Its OK I feed him, I feed the child too. I hope he doesn’t get a job soon because “esente zimuwaga” (money disturbs him).

I have plans, I am 32 but I tell everyone here that I am 30, please don’t tell them. Yeah, I have plans. I picture myself owning a salon, with big mirrors on the wall, two dyers in one corner, those nice white plastic chairs, two ladies helping me. A man washing the customer’s feet and painting the nails, a black and white carpet and those curtains in salons – you know them. So one day maybe one day.”

 “Please don’t judge me for selling my body at 5000 UGX.”

 “Please don’t judge me for selling my body at 5000 UGX.”

Out of curiosity, last Saturday, I called a friend, a community mobliser, who had worked  in Bwaise Kimombasa for years rehabilitating sex workers and connecting them to health care services and education programmes for their children. He had shared their stories with me but I wanted to hear and see for myself. I wanted to treat my curiosity, I wanted to know what would force anyone to go into this “World’s Oldest Profession”. With an open notebook, a curious mind and loads of questions, I was in Kimombasa  Bwaise.

Sheila was the first person we met. This is the story of Sheila a 29-year-old sex worker.

“My father worked at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Our home was at Old Kampala Block 20A5BS New park. My mum was a business woman that would go to Dubai for months to do business. I don’t know what business she was doing. While she was away, my father had a different woman every month, some of the women that he brought home, beat me up and one of them burnt me. Look at these scars on my chest, this was a damage by one of my stepmothers because I scored a first grade at P7.

I decided to run away from home. This is where my running started, and since then, I have been on the run. I am 29 but any escape route from this misery I will run. I am a runner.

When the burns healed, I ran to Kasese, a nun picked me up l told her that I was an orphan- at least that is what I felt. I stayed with her for one year. One day, someone told the nun that they had seen a picture of me on TV. My parents were looking for me. The nun gave me transport and I boarded a bus back home, when I got back home, my father asked

“Ogumwana naruga nkahi?” Where has this child been?” My father asked.

He beat me badly, my latest mum pleaded with him to stop. She was the only mum I liked.

I asked my father that I would go to the village so that I can study there, I had been a city child, in primary, I studied at  Kyaggwe Road Primary School. Life was different in the village, I walked a mile  to school. My grandmother would park my food in a banana fibre, many times, I ate the food before getting to school. The walking was too much for me.

I decided to run away again.

I got into a bus to Kashenshero to become a housemaid, in that household, my English accent was better than for my boss’ kids they asked me to start coaching the kids.  She took me back to school up to Senior Four. I had good grades but I couldn’t tell them that I was a Kampala child, they would chase me away. My boss liked me, she wanted to help me be a better person, she requested that I at least show her one of my relatives. I knew that this wasn’t going to end well for me. I would end up at my father’s house. I didn’t want to go there. I never wanted to get there ever again.

I ran away again, to Ishasha at the Congo border through Kihihi, I made sure I have enough money to get me to my destination, it is the bus conductor that bought me a snack on that trip.

In Ishasha, I got a restaurant Job, then moved from one home to another as a house maid.

I was tired of running.  I went back home but then the neighbors told me that my family had shifted to Kabalagala Kironde road where they had built a house. I  looked for them. I found them but my father was dead.

“You girl, where have you been?” My mother asked “Don’t ask her many questions she will disappear again.” she said. “Kwonka mwanawe nozenga”

She called my seven uncles her brothers and my father’s brothers. At night, they mobbed me and flogged me like those petty thieves in the market. To them, I was a disgrace.

“Why did I come back home?” I wondered.

I should have followed my gut feelings.  I didn’t have a relationship with my mum, she was never there. The only woman that gave me some love was one of my many ‘mums’. Unfortunately, she is dead.

From my housemaid experience, I had learnt how to work.  I busied myself with house chores as I nursed my injuries and hatched a plan for my next move.

I wish my mum had sat me down and asked me why I was doing what I was doing. She said that if I ever tell anyone about the beating, I should die without ever coming back home.

When the bruises were healed, I ran again. This time to Arusha, with a man, who took me with him for a tour. I had a good time, he cared for me. Unfortunately, he was married, he escorted me back to Kampala, gave me some money and returned to his family.

I couldn’t go back home. From the money he gave me, I went to a lodge. I met a friend who told me that I don’t have to suffer alone. So she took me to her workplace at night. I started selling my body.

People ask me why I am selling my body. But they don’t know what I have been through. I don’t enjoy sleeping with men. I sometimes make up my mind not to go back but then I submit to hunger. In 2014, I vowed to stop, someone connected me to a rich man in town to work as a maid. I was sure I would save and start a business but one of their sons raped me, I conceived, when I gave birth, I was chased away, I couldn’t take care of the baby, I took the baby to a babies’ home. I went back for the baby but they have refused to give me the baby. I don’t even have papers to get him because I left them at that place I used to work.

Look, I have three thousand shillings, I made 5000 shillings yesterday, I ate 2000 shillings so that I don’t have to sleep with men today. Please don’t judge me for selling myself at 5000 Uganda shillings.

Last week, my best friend was killed in a lodge in Kisenyi. When I learnt of her death, I drunk so much that I wanted the cars to run over me but they all kept dodging me. I feel lost. This friend would call me to remind me to take medicine. I am HIV+, now she is dead.  I think as you listen to me you realize that there are some people that are not meant to be alive. I think I am one of them. I am lonely, I feel alone, I keep to myself these days.

I wish my parents had understood me. I have no family; I am my family. I last went home last year to bury my mother. I don’t want my kid to suffer, I don’t want him to end up like me. When I am with women around here, I cry- Yeah I cry all the time these days.

You know that song, I know who I am? I don’t know who sang it. I know who I am. No one around this forsaken place believes my story but I know who I am.

You know, I like Juanita Bynum, Oprah and Joyce Meyer. I like their stories.”

For the next couple of weeks, one story each week, I will be documenting the lives of sex workers around the slums of Kampala.  Why am I doing this? I don’t know. But how about listening to the other side of the story. Thanks for passing by my blog. I hope to see you next week.

Eating competition in Uganda

Eating competition in Uganda

Ladies and gentlemen there is an ongoing eating competition in Uganda today. It has been going on for as far as we can remember. The contestants are enlisted below. Please feel free to vote for your best. The order in which they are enlisted doesn’t mean anything.   This competition is taking place in a country where the government has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the African Union Convention for Preventing and Combating Corruption

To begin with, this month the Auditor General’s report revealed how an estimated Shs50 billion meant for northern Uganda and Karamoja were instead used to facilitate “officers” who accompanied the Security Minister and visiting dignitaries for meetings at President Museveni’s upcountry home in Rwakitura. Shs. 2million was used to pay DSTV premium subscription and printer cartridge for Office of the Prime Minister on August 15 2011. And yet another Shs2m was used for telephone connection in the same office.
A commission of inquiry into the mismanagement of the Global (and GAVI) Fund led by Justice James Ogoola established in 2005 that Mr. Muhwezi – along with two other health ministers, Mike Mukula and Alex Kamugisha – had cases to answer, including causing financial loss and uttering false statements. These  ate Shs1.6 billion meant for treating pregnant mothers dying of malaria, for treating bed-ridden HIV/AIDS patients, for immunizing children against polio; Justice John Bosco Katutsi described them as beasts, rogues and a mass murderers for engaging in this competition. Some of this money has since been vomited.

Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the Republic of Uganda has acquired himself new wheels worth 6billion. This kind of spending reminded the parliamentarians of their history 3 lesson about the reign of 17th Century French King, Louis XVI and his dear wife Maria Antoinette.

President Museveni in one of his new Benzes- Daily Monitor photo

According to police investigations recently, Mr Christopher Obey and Mr David Oloka, were accused of mismanaging  the pension sector in the Ministry of Public Service, these two own several companies. The press reported that Mr Obey, basing on his personal estimation, is valued at Shs300 billion, close to a third of Uganda’s annual budget. A CID investigation said that the two eaters accumulated wealth  in the pension scam that led to a loss of up to Shs169 billion paid to ghost pensioners.

Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa and three other ministers, during the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, took the eating to another level. They ate Shs14 billion. In preparing for Chogm, Hon. Kutesa was specifically responsible for arranging venues, accommodation, conferences and the secretariat. Kutesa (Honorable)   had nothing to do with procuring vehicles. He instead usurped the role of the works and transport minister and spared no effort in ensuring that the contract of procuring Chogm vehicles is awarded to Motorcare Uganda, a company in which he once held shares. “The procurement process was fraudulent and marred with many irregularities,” concluded the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chogm Audit Report. But the same court on Friday, November this year of Jubilee acquitted and discharged the three accused ministers, saying that the prosecution had failed to make its case against them.

The other contestants are Former ministers of internal affairs Minister Kirunda Kivejinja and Alintuma Nsambu who also actively participated. They didn’t spare the Shs200 billion that was meant for National Identity Cards.

Before I sign-out, I would like to pass on a message to the contestants and any others that are eating from smaller plates.  Habakkuk a prophet of God says;

Because you have plundered many nations,
    now all the survivors will plunder you.
You committed murder throughout the countryside
    and filled the towns with violence.

9“What sorrow awaits you who build big houses
    with money gained dishonestly!
You believe your wealth will buy security,
    putting your family’s nest beyond the reach of danger.
10 But by the murders you committed,
    you have shamed your name and forfeited your lives.
11 The very stones in the walls cry out against you,
    and the beams in the ceilings echo the complaint.

12 “What sorrow awaits you who build cities
    with money gained through murder and corruption!