26 February 2013

Uganda: When Will My Misery End?

At seven months pregnant, she was willing to accept her husband 's death. But on returning from his burial everything had been stolen. As she struggles with her two children, her in-laws want nothing to do with her. Watuwa Timbiti brings you Annet Namwanje's story

Seated on the steps of a towering latrine near her mud-and-wattle house, Annet Namwanje, 25, holds her baby, a beautiful and chubby girl who looks a little over a year old. With a distant look in her eyes, Namwanje tells of the troubles that being a widow has brought her.

Namwanje who dropped out of school in P4, lost her husband in August 2012, when he was murdered under mysterious circumstances in Mombasa.

"He met me in Kisaasi in 2010, in a salon, where I always had my hair done. Our friendship grew into intimacy. We moved to Nakulabye and rented a house. I was a housewife and then got pregnant," Namwanje recalls.

By the time of her husband's death, Namwanje says one of his brothers had a copy of the key to their house. Before going for the funeral in Mityana, she asked a neighbour to keep watch over the house - someone would sleep there for security purposes.

However, to her surprise, she found an empty house when she returned from the funeral. She suspects that her late husband's family members could have been behind the move to steal the property since they had a key.

The world was closing in on Namwanje: she had not only lost a husband, but even the small property that could have given her and her unborn child a start to a new life.

"I did not know what to do next. I was eight months pregnant. I would not wait to be thrown out of the house by the landlord; I evicted myself with no known destination," she narrates as she lifts her blouse to wipe beady tears rolling down her face.

Namwanje contemplated going back to the village, but the thought that she was about to give birth held her back. She was not sure of proper healthcare in the village.

"Seeing me in grief, the area LCI chairman offered me this house to stay in. I gave birth a month later," Namwanje says. Although her late husband's relatives have the capacity to help her, they could not care less.

"I tried to connect with them, but the response was that they had lost a son. They sounded like I had caused his death, so they did not want me in their lives," Namwanje says.

A law firm has offered her free legal services to ensure that the child gets acceptance into her clan to get a sense of belonging and identity.

The father of Namwanje's first child, who is now seven years old, disappeared, afraid to be arrested over defilement. So she has to struggle with the two children. To earn some money, she washes clothes for people in the slum for sh2,000. However, many people are doing the same work.

A life of misfortune

Unlike other children, fate denied Namwanje the warmth and security that comes with parental love and care.

"My father died when I was still young.

I did not see him. I only got to know my mother when I was 15 years old; she came to the village to see us and introduced herself as my mother," she says, wiping tears again. She was raised at her paternal grandfather's home in Zirobwe, Luwero district.

"I was told my father had been brought back home when he was about to die. As a young boy, his mother had given him away to another man and he was only brought back to his true parentage in his last days," she says.

Although she is the third born of her mother's five children, Namwanje does not share a father with any of her siblings.

It is from Zirobwe that someone picked her up to come to Kampala and work as a housemaid in Kawala. Because she so much wanted to study, she saved money and went back to school. However, she soon ran out of money.

Still she worked hard again, saving sh90,000 and moved back to the village to resume studies. Unfortunately, she found her brother had fought with his wife and he needed sh20,000 to settle the matter. She gave him what he needed and kept sh70,000 in the house, but it was stolen.

"I got frustrated, I could not imagine that anybody who saw how hard I struggled to make the money and attain education, could steal my money," she says with bitterness, her face downcast.

Disillusioned, Namwanje returned to Kampala and worked in Namuwongo as a maid, but she says life was a living hell. She left and went to live with her mother in the village. Her mother arranged for her to move back to Kampala and find work.

Namwanje got a job on a flower farm in Kawuku on Entebbe Road for over a year. She again moved back to her mother's home, until a friend linked her to a housemaid job. She worked in Kisaasi for a year, and soon met her husband.

Namwanje says she cannot go back to live with her mother, fearing that she would be a burden.

"I cannot go back to the village and live with my mother. I would be a burden to her because she is also struggling to survive.

She depends on money she gets from digging and weeding people's gardens," she explains.

What Namwanje wants now is skills-based training and self-reliance to enable her generate money to educate her children. At all times, she expresses a willingness to work.

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