New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Bomb Blasts Made Me Deaf

ON July 11, 2010, al-Shaabab, a terrorist group based in Somalia, launched two heinous bomb attacks on Ugandans at Kyadondo Rugby club and the Ethiopian village Restaurant in Kabalagala that left 79 people dead and several injured.

New Vision is remembering the Ugandans who perished in the tragedy. Stephen Ssenkaaba talked to Irene Sagamba, a survivor.

She was the girl for a good moment, a party animal who never missed a music show, the football fan who never missed a good game. She loved parties and hanging out with friends until July 11, 2010.

The bomb blasts that ripped through Kyadondo rugby Grounds killing 79 people also turned Irene Sagamba's life around.

Today, the 26-year-old thinks twice before walking through crowded places.

"There is simply no security in this country," she told me. "I feel so insecure." That fateful Sunday, Sagamba sat right in the middle of the action, flanked by friends as crowds enjoyed the world cup soccer final on a giant screen.

When the first blast went off, she thought it was distraction by some naughty people. "I looked up wondering why fireworks had started so early."

A second bang followed. She then realised that it was different fire altogether.

"I stayed put on my chair, looked around and realised I had metallic fragments all over me," recalls Sagamba.

But when she shook off a chunk of human flesh that had stuck on her cheek, Sagamba knew all was not well.

"I remained glued to my chair, too weak to stand up." Her arm had been hit. Sagamba had also sustained a deep cut above her left breast.

The young woman spent the next two months undergoing treatment. "I stopped working and became entirely dependent on other people," she says.

By the time she improved, Sagamba and her family had spent over sh1.5m on treatment. "The sh3m compensation from the Government did not come in time, I had to fend for myself."

Sagamba has tried to want to put the past behind her. She has a tendency to shrug off what happened when narrating her ordeal.

Her squeaky voice makes her sound relaxed, even childlike in her attitude towards the tragedy. But it is the steady, thoughtful eye that she keeps casting in the open space, punctuated by bouts of silence that betray her.

Sometimes, she seemed to think so hard; many times she appeared so engrossed in thoughts that I had to draw her attention to the interview. "It has been a difficult year," she admits, "but life goes on."

Unfortunately for her, life will go on with irreversible damages to her life. "I have difficulties hearing," she says. "Doctors have told me that my condition will gradually deteriorate and that I will have to use hearing aids in future."

Just then, I notice how much of a hustle it has so far been getting Sagamba to hear my questions. I make sense of the constant "I beg your pardons" she has been throwing at me.

"If there is one thing that saddens me about this tragedy, it is my loss of hearing. I was a normal girl before, but now, I struggle to hear. I feel bad when I have to ask people to repeat what they say," laments Sagamba.

For a person whose administrative job with an association for elderly people involves talking and listening, life has become difficult.

The deep cut she sustained above her breast has healed, but the scar continues to itch her terribly. "I keep scratching myself and when it doesn't help, I pour warm water on the scar to calm the irritation," she says.

The once outgoing girl has become a home-girl. "I used to enjoy the outdoors; not any more. I fear going to public places, I fear crowds. I no longer enjoy my life as I used to," she said.

Sagamba remains critical about security (the lack of it) in this country. "I am told that the Police knew about the bomb scare before it happened, but they did not act. The Government should put security checks in every spot to protect us," she says.

Her troubles notwithstanding, the young lady continues with her life.

Background

Sagamba, a Ugandan of Rwandan origin. She was born to Ponsiano Byaruhanga and Phoebe Matembe of Mutundwe. She is the fifth born of 12 children.

She attended Buyege and Bunamwaya primary schools and later Aggrey memorial secondary school. She later joined Nsamizi training institute of management and Makerere University graduating with a bachelor's in development studies.

Today, she works as an administrative manager with various organisations, including an association for elderly people.

"It is my dream to continue helping the needy and to become a leading supplier of pork products in the country," she says.

Her experience was a lesson, not a deterrent. She has, thus, learnt that the best way is to go on and not to give up.

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