By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Twenty-two year old Stella Nakimera sits along Luwum Street of Kampala City day in day out begging for money from passers-by. Failure to afford medication for Leukaemia has turned her into a perpetual beggar. She told Mubatsi Asinja Habati her story. Below are excerpts:
Q: How did you end up here?
A: A doctor at Mulago told me I was suffering from leukaemia (cancer of the blood) and prescribed medicine for me. However, I could not afford the medication so I was discharged. And because I had been given little money for transport I had none left to take me back home. That is how I am here begging with the hope of getting money to transport me to the village and wait for my death.
Q: So where do you come from and when did you become sick?
A: I was born in Madudu village in Mubende until I turned 19 years old. I grew up in the village. My parents died when I was only 10 years old. I stayed with my maternal grandmother after their death. When I was 19, my life took a dramatic twist. I went to bed as I had always done whenever night fell. But the following day I did not wake up normally. I woke up with a very swollen painful leg. The pain persisted.
Q: After realising you had an ailing leg, what did you and your grandmother do to ease the pain in the leg?
A: Grandmother called her children who later decided that I should go to my paternal relatives so that they could meet my medical bills. Sadly, these relatives of mine were unable to take me to hospital early enough partly because of poverty and jealousy. They instead treated me using local herbs. As the leg was getting worse, they noticed there was no improvement. My paternal aunt, in 2008, gave me money enough for transport to Mulago Hospital for medical check up.
Q: When did you start begging?
A: It was in November 2008 that I began asking for alms. However, people generally think all beggars are a bunch of lazy persons. However, this is an unfair generalisation. [Nakimera stands up and pulls her dress upwards slightly above the knee. Her swollen right leg has bits of cotton wool soaked in wounds that have blood oozing. A repulsive smell follows.] Look at me properly. Would it be fair to judge me as a lazy person? It is circumstances that have pushed me into this condition.
Q: Where do you sleep?
A: I sleep in a church premise in Makerere Kivulu. Here I met a kind man of God who is a priest of this church and gave abode so that I collect money to transport back home.
Q. People living in Kampala are generally individualistic. What is annoying about asking for help from people who live in the city; people who do not know you?
A: When they judge me harshly, yet I well know it is this cancerous disease that has changed my life to bitterness. [Nakimera breaks into tears.] I don’t intend to be on this street for long begging. As soon as I get enough money to take me, home and resume my studies I’ll leave.
Q: What plans do you have to treat leukaemia?
A: The priest who gave me abode says he is talking to his friends to see how they can help me get treatment. I am banking on this. I pray that God touches people like the priest to help.
Q: How do you feel asking for alms all the time from strangers?
A: I feel my sickness has disabled me to such an appalling situation of living on hand outs I receive from a few sympathetic people after begging their help. In fact, I feel bad. I feel I should be able to do things myself using money of my own hands and sweat. This is why I want to continue schooling at least finishing S.4. Many times I wish my parents were alive probably they would be caring for me. I become bitter whenever I think of how the land and house, my parents left behind, have been sold away by my paternal uncles who no longer care if I live or not.
Q: In a good day, how much do you collect?
A: I get Shs1500 if people have been kind enough. On bad days, I get Shs400. On this money, I have to get myself lunch. The priest gives me supper. Many days I go on an empty stomach moreover under a scorching sun. People don’t always give you money whenever you open your begging hands to them. Many of them often ignore you or pretend they have not seen you. Just a few are kind-hearted and these are rare.