Once Upon a Time in Uganda

I bring to you a story from Uganda. The story a woman who tasted the bitterness of life. My mother, Mbabazi Rebecca.

When she was a teenager, my mom enjoyed studying and dreamed of being an important person. Her dream was becoming a pediatrician, because she loved being around little kids. “Oh, a doctor!” everyone in the village was stunned.

One day, they chased mom from school for lack of payment. She went home and informed her own mother about it. My granny had eight children. Seven were male, and my mom was the only female. Mom hobbled towards her father’s room to speak about the fees balance.

“Good morning father,” she greeted

“Yes, what do you want?!” he replied.

“Father, they chased me away from school until I pay my outstanding fees.”

“What?!” he yelled. “Am I a bank? Do you know how hard it is to raise eight children?”

“Yes, father, I understand,” she replied. “But I want to be a pediatrician someday.”

“Ha-ha! You, a mere riffraff?! Get out of my face before I count to five.”

Mom hobbled out. They expected her to forego education and get married at her tender age. My mother very ambitious and promised to fight for her dream. In a state of utter devastation, she left home and went to see what she could do to do to pay her school fees. Little did she know this was the end of her education and the beginning of her ruin.

Mom found a job as a housemaid and was being paid five thousand shillings (less than £1 in today’s money) per month. She was shocked to find out that her boss lady was a solicitor who offered her employees to men for money. Mother had no other option. She was desperate and did that despicable act to save her future.

One day she was shocked to find out that she was pregnant and could not stop crying. But tears could change nothing. She never thought of terminating the pregnancy because that was abominable in our society. Besides, there were no trained personnel to help her out. Pregnancy before marriage could diminish her reputation. For this reason they forbade her from setting foot in her home, and she went to stay in Nkwenda village near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Momma suffered with the pregnancy, with no one to help her out with the chores. She cooked some chapattis from where she earned a living. If you’re a mother, you understand how hard pregnancy can be with absolutely no one to help, let alone comfort you. After nine months of great agony and misery, she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. Me.

After my birth in 2004, mom continued working not as a housemaid but as a waiter in some local restaurant. She secured some capital which she used to set up a small retail shop where she sold tomatoes and pineapples and still cooked chapattis. She supplied the commodities to tourist camps and started living her life.

Mother brought me up very well. She never gave me reasons to complain about anything. I still remember the days when I went out to play with my friends and returned with my face and clothes covered with dust. She would beat me up, but when I cried, she held me in her hands and wiped my tears. I still remember when I could make her run through the entire village and it felt like I was versing her. Her love for me was unconditional. When I returned home from school, she was always keeping the yummiest chapatti amongst those she had cooked that day.

After staying alone for an exceptionally long time, she got married to a park ranger called James. Back then, people got married without knowing their HIV statuses because they were not aware of its existence and incurable nature. Mom married him, not knowing he was HIV positive.

After nine months she got pregnant again and after nine months, she gave birth to a baby girl, my sister, Ampeire Stella

Mom was infected with HIV but had not yet recognized it. My sister was another victim of the virus. Back then, the hospital lacked trained personnel and many women would die while giving birth. The hospital had few attendants who were not skilled at all. My sister could not escape the virus, though no one knew it.

They discharged mother from the hospital, and she went home. Her husband got a job transfer to Kibale National park, and he went, leaving us behind. She took care of Stella but did not know her HIV status.

Approximately two weeks after discharge, she felt dizzy and fell down unconscious. She was rushed to the hospital. Things had changed. She was tested and only to find she was positive with the virus. Stella’s results turned out the same. Mother shed tears day and night, but they could not make her HIV status negative. She stayed at the hospital for three long months after when she was discharged, with ARV drugs provided by the government.

Back at home, my mother fell unconscious again and. This time, when she got to the hospital unable to stand on her two feet. Mom took a long time to understand her infection and its effects. HIV had reached the advanced level where it affected her nerves, causing her paralysis. More to that, HIV affected the most important part of the brain responsible for balance, and this was among the reasons she could not stand up on her two feet. Mother stayed at the hospital for six months after when she was discharged, but this time as a cripple. Since then she has never walked.

When I see her, I cry. I think that maybe if she could walk, she would help solve my problems as she did when I was young, but all this is vain.

I decided to put her name and story in writing. That is the best I can do at the moment. Maybe publishing her name will flatter her, though she never accomplished her dream.

Despite her condition, mom continues to advise us and teach us respect. She has great expectations for us in life. She motivated me to become a doctor one day in life so that I can address her condition. She has instilled good morals in us all. She has passed through thick and thin to bring us all up, but still suffers to take care of us. Every morning at the cock’s crow, she crawls and crosses the road to earn a living for us. I suffer seeing her in such a condition, but I have absolutely nothing to do. I’m burning on the inside and the fire glows day by day as I see her cross the road. I sometimes develop negative feelings she could be knocked down by a car, but our lives solely depend on her small business.

She provides us with necessities like books and pens as I hustle to get my fees for the next term. Life has been and is still a nightmare for us, but that is who we are.


Arinda Iain completed primary education at Buhoma Community School, where he got seven aggregates in four. He then sat for a full year awaiting secondary education and later joined at Bishop Combon School. His family is composed of his mother and sister, whom he has to take care of following their terrible health condition. His sister is currently in Primary Four and has a dream of becoming a pediatrician.