14 January 2013

Uganda: Ssimwogerere and His Women

Hajji Ashraf Ssimwogerere, a dentist and seasoned actor, fell in love with a Senior Three girl while in school. Before long, the girl was pregnant with his child.

After some time, the relationship ended. Years later, she bounced back and Ssimwogerere was more than willing to rekindle their love. But when he tried to force her into sex, she revealed to him she was HIV positive. A few years later, she died. Samuel Lutwama brings you the marital journey of this father of seven children from three women.

Growing up

Ashraf Ssimwogerere grew up in Kabonge village, near Bombo town in Luwero district. "I grew up in a polygamous family of 28 children from seven women," he reveals.

He says his father, Abdullah Mukiibi, got many children perhaps because he wanted to have a girl in his family. The fi rst girl was born in Mukiibi's advanced age.

Although he grew up in a polygamous family, Ssimwogerere did not want to marry more than one woman. "There was nothing good I learnt. I was forced to grow up in many homes," he said. The celebrated local actor says because he did not get a good education, expressing himself in English has been a challenge.

"One day, when I was a pupil, I was sent to the offi ce of the deputy headmistress for a punching machine, but I did not know what it was called in English. I asked a friend who misinformed me that it was called a 'kiss'. So when I went to her office, I asked for a 'kiss'. Later in the day, I was punished at the school parade."

Nevertheless, Ssimwogerere excelled in school and qualified as a dentist, but abandoned his profession to follow his passion of acting. Today, he is a celebrated local actor, movie producer and the director of Pan Afric Pictures.

His adventurous love life

Ssimwogerere's fi rst attempt at romance almost ended in disaster. He says: "To date, the person I call my hero was actually my first love, Ruth Josephine Nagadya."

"I had my first child with her while in S.3. We parted ways, but later she came to visit me at the university. We spent the night in my room to try to rekindle our love. In the wee hours of the morning, she refused to give in.

When I tried to force her to have sex with me, she slapped me. It was at that time that she revealed that she was HIV positive." Ssimwogerere said Nagadya advised him on self restraint in order not to fall victim of the AIDS pandemic.

"Unfortunately, she died a few years later. Before her death, she advised me to marry as soon as I was out the university. In 1993, I married my wife, with whom I have three children. I have four children from other women."

Open communication

Over the years, Ssimwogerere has leant that the fundamental thing about love is that it thrives on communication. Like they say that experience is best teacher, he dispatches his experience.

"As a husband, I have had a bitter experience on how my inability to communicate on pertinent issues with my wife widened the gulf between us," Ssimwogerere narrates.

"I remember we had a contentious issue, which we had deliberately tried to avoid and yet it was taking a toll on us. One day, I lost my cool and spilled everything. That experience, however, turned to be life-changing. My wife, Namyalo, broke down and said sorry for the first time in our marriage. From that time, we agreed to openly communicate about issues affecting us."

Ssimwogere  - the actor and the husband

Perhaps one of the reasons why Ssimwogerere gave up on his profession was because many people used to confuse his professional skills with acting. "There was a time I acted as a quack dentist and whoever came to my clinic after watching the play doubted my skills," reminisced Ssimwogerere.

"Eventually, I gave up dentistry. From that time, I leant to draw a line between my life as an actor and my real life as a husband and father." He says even his wife used not to take him seriously during their early years of courtship because she often watched him and failed to draw a line between Ssimwogerere the actor and Ssimwogerere her husband.

A case in point is when he one day acted as serial liar. In the play, he narrates, when he was telling lies, he would gesture by touching his teeth. His wife took the gesture home. He says: "One day, as I was discussing something with my wife, I touched my teeth and she concluded that I was telling lies. With those incidents I learnt that it was important to separate life on the stage from ife outside it.

Humble beginning

Ssimwogerere says: "By the time we got married, I was still living in a small house, which belonged to the hospital where I worked," he narrated. But through hard work and sacrifice, the couple was able to build their house in Lungujja. He, however, reckons that the first four years were his happiest.

"During that time, we may have lacked the money, but we did not lack the love," he said. He added: "Like the saying, nothing lasts forever, soon, we started experiencing marital challenges. Years ago, I acted in a script where I used cassava flour to plaster beards on my face.

After the play, one of my friends used her handkerchief to clean up the mess. What I did not know then was how my wife would react on seeing the handkerchief. Without mincing words, Ssimwogerere says his wife suspected that he had been out with other women.

Suddenly, his once peaceful and happy home became a battlefield.

Second wife

"With love gone, our marriage became vulnerable and I started yearning for solace elsewhere. That is how ended up with the second wife." Like his fi rst wife, he also met the second one at Bat Valley Theatre.

"At the time when my marriage was on the rocks, I met Esther Nagawa in 2001, shortly after making my pilgrimage to Mecca. Love blossomed and we ended up having three children. Later, my second wife went to Canada and that marked the end of our relationship, although we are still in touch," Ssimwogerere narrated.

"I dread seeing my wife in the hands of another man. Although I stumbled on the way, I still do not advocate for a polygamous marriage because of my experience while growing up," he said.

The couple's weaknesses

He reveals that his wife's greatest weakness is her failure to conquer the jealousy within her. "She is so jealous to an extent that she can wake up crying if she dreams that I was having an affair with another woman."

On the other hand, Ssimwogerere's weakness stems from his introverted nature. "I am a man who would prefer to sleep in the car in case I am not getting along well with my wife, just to avoid confrontation. But over the years, I have improved on my communication to avoid those moments of long silence."

He remembers an incident when one of his young daughters found him sleeping in the garage and informed other family members. "From that time, I resorted to handling issues through dialogue," he recalls.

The actor's love for teachers and his first wife

The year 1993 was of glad tidings for the actor. First, he started running his own dental clinic and at the same time, continued chasing his dream, acting.

"I would work at my clinic during day and then attend rehearsals in the evening. Somehow, I managed to juggle both careers well," he narrated. It was during his initial years in acting that he fell in love with his current wife, Sharifah Namyalo, with whom Ssimwogerere has three children.

He says while growing up, he fancied marrying a teacher. "I always wanted to date teachers and I hoped that one day, I would marry one," he reminisced. As a grown man, he kept chasing his dream until Namyalo came into the picture. She was a teacher at Kyagwe Road Primary School, which was a few metres away from Riverside Theatre, where Ssimwogerere held his shows.

It was not love at fi rst sight. It took me many years to convince her to accept my advances," he said. Ssimwogerere said he had a huge task convincing Namyalo that he would make a good husband. She was used to Ssimwogerere's jokes on stage and was convinced he would not be a serious man in life.

"However, with time, she gave in and that marked the birth of our family." The couple got married on February 20, 1993. After sometime, Ssimwogerere gave up on dentistry to follow his passion of writing plays and acting.

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