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Of Kampala’s slum women and motherhood challenges

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Of Kampala’s slum women and motherhood challenges

The sun is up but the ground is as muddy as if it’s raining. As the motorcycle am seated on goes on to the muddy road it splashes water on my feet and on the passersby. I tell my cyclist/guide to slow down as we might slip and fall into the mud and he assures me that he has plied this road long enough to get a mishap.

We are on our way to the chairperson’s office in Makerere III, one of the slums in Kampala. It is obvious the drainage is poor in this place, as the rains from earlier this morning seem to have the full measure of their effects two hours later. As we move on, we meet a woman taking her two children to school, one at her back as the older one holds onto her dress as they make their way through the mud. She is one of the courageous ones who decided to take her children to school today as we later learn from the chairman. “Today will not be an easy day to visit the households because the roads are impassable, and most people are busy cleaning out the water” exclaimed the chairman after explaining to him the purpose of my visit. “On such days, only a few people leave their homes for work, most of them have to stay back and ensure that the house is dry and clean by night” said my cyclist as we headed back to the main road.

The next morning, some households are still draining out water from their flooded houses, children up in their mother’s backs and all household possessions up on the shelves. My guide informs me that it is a common sight in this area as she leads my team to another area, she suspects is more settled.

As we move through the slippery narrow paths, she tells me that the typical woman in this area is either unemployed or engaged in the informal sector. Many work for a day’s wage that may be just enough to secure the next meal for herself and her children.  This reminds me of my first visit to the slum, when the security officer was taking me to the chairman. Most people were cutting metallic wires but would hide as soon as they spotted him. He explained that, they illegally cut wires off electric poles and use them to make hangs for clothes. The security forces decided to stop arresting people they found with the wires because whenever they did the crime rates escalated in the area. When the locals have no wires, they turn to theft like grabbing bags, stealing phones, laptops and household possessions for quick money.

After 30 minutes of negotiating with the terrible paths we get to the household of the first respondent, a 20 year old mother of three. She warms up to the guide and inquires if she has brought “abasawo ba famile” (Family planning doctor). We inform her that we have come for another cause, but Family planning could be accessed at the nearby government facility to which she quickly responds that she cannot go to the hospital for that. “The lines are too long for those who get it for free, you would have to put off a whole day to get it. I will save up some money and go to the private clinic when I need it” she concludes the topic. We were looking for mothers with children below 6 months and she directs us to the households of two of her friends she used to walk with to the hospital for antenatal care at Kawempe Hospital which was reported to be the nearest government facility. In my estimate, Kawempe hospital is about 4 Km from her home. It is a free service government facility, but many times commodities are not available, and patients have to buy. The nearby private clinics are too expensive, yet they provide services similar to what is at government hospital.  After a few households, we decide to continue the next day as by this time all of us have escaped a fall into the open drainage channels loaded with water which is angrily flowing through like as if it is disappointed at the impact it causes to the inhabitants of the slum.

The next day is dry and our first household which was almost inaccessible the day before is only a few steps away thanks to the dry ground. I opt to stay at this household where we found a woman smoking a wind pipe and gazing into the open from her metallic shack which is home to her and her six children. Her dirty and torn clothes already tell a story about her financial standing. As we go through the questionnaire, she informs us that she hawks food in the market at lunch time and in the evening sweets on the road, which together earn her 5,000shs (or just 1.5 USD) on a good day. She stays alone with her six children who she claims that each has his/her own father. She told us that the men who fathered her children all leave the moment they get to know she is pregnant. She wipes a tear from her eyes as she narrates the ordeal of her last boyfriend; whom she claims that he infected her with HIV and her last child did not survive it either because she discovered it later in the pregnancy. With the little she earns, she buys books for her son who goes to a nearby Universal Primary Education (UPE) school. She hopes he will take care of his siblings when she is gone.

As we continue on our search for respondents, we walk past one of the good looking shelters, a small (clearly wasted) child crawling out of the gate attracts us there, she warms up to us and I carry her to one open door. An elderly woman emerges and laughs at the sight of her girl comfortably snuggling with a stranger. As we tell her about the need to take the girl to the hospital for assessment and management, she quickly explains that child belongs to her neighbor; a young teenage mother she suspects to be about 16 or so. She helps take care her baby while she goes to work. “The mother leaves me at 5:00am to go prepare the breakfast in the taxi park to get some money. Her boyfriend would not let her stay in his house without work.” narrated the woman. From her earnings, the mother leaves behind a flask and a doughnut which the child feeds on throughout the day. She thinks that if the boyfriend had let her breastfeed at least until the child was one year the child would be better. “The little girl hardly recognizes her mother, she was breastfed for only 2 months and then the mother got work – so they rarely bond” She added.

Another mother is privileged to carry her child to work, she tells us how she works in the market and by 6:30 am she and her child are at their stall. She says it is not allowed to carry children to the market, but she sneaks her baby in because she needs to work and does not have another place to leave him. She narrates that she worked even on the day she delivered, because she needed to first make some money which would transport her to the hospital. That day, she left home as usual for work and after a few hours she started feeling mild pains in the stomach, but she hoped to deliver the next day.  However, within hours they intensified, and she quickly told her neighboring stall keeper to pack her merchandise while she took a motorcycle to the hospital where she later delivered a bouncing baby boy within minutes of reaching the hospital. Her husband had planned to take her to the hospital, and he kept the money for the payments in a secret place she didn’t even know. If she had not made a few sells that morning, she never would have had the transport fare for the motorcycle she took. As we continue talking, she reveals that she carries milk or porridge for her child to top up on the breast milk, her baby is only 2 months but ignorance led her to think that cow’s milk and porridge were better for the child than her breast milk.

A box which she carries to work acts as the bed for her child as she attends to her customers

The stories we find in the other households are no different from these, many women lived in areas where they felt tied up after the rains, had meager income if any, worked long hours and had busy spouses to attend to their delivery and child feeding needs. Worse still, a few women had to leave their children behind, find work even as soon as one day after delivery in order to find a meal for the older children and support their men who were not earning enough or wasted the money on alcohol and drugs.

Author: Phoebe Nabunya

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