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New Vision
Uganda: I Fear Poverty Will Kill Me Before HIV Does
<p>Watuwa Timbiti</p>
November 5, 2012

She was devastated on learning that her husband had infected her with a deadly disease - HIV - and then died, leaving her widowed and poor.

Though Caroline Nangendo embraced life as it was, life has not necessarily embraced her back, writes Watuwa Timbiti

I have been swallowing ARVs for years now. I have followed all the instructions from the doctors. I have done everything I can to stay alive so that I can take care of my children, but it hurts me that even after I have tried to stave off AIDS-related death, another form of death awaits me. It is this house - this house will kill me sooner than I expect."

This haunting statement comes from Nangendo, 57, a widow with eight children, who lives in Kisenyi slum in Namilyango, Goma Sub-County in Mukono.

The house in question is a betrayal of the fundamental human right to good shelter.

The house slants and has a rusty, leaky roof. The eucalyptus poles holding the roof up are rotting, so a flour-like substance keeps falling off them on to the floor. The mud on the walls has fallen off, leaving the weak supporting poles bare. The house, which is now 10 years old, is likely to crumble any time.

Whenever it rains, Nangendo folds her beddings to the side and watches in the dark as her troubles seep in from under the door.

With its tiny windows, what is supposedly the sitting room is loaded with darkness. In a corner, gloomier than the others in the house, are the beddings of her last born son. He lies in pain, having been involved in a boda boda accident the previous day on the Kampala-Mukono road.

Although a smile keeps touching her face, Nangendo is a troubled woman who has resiliently waded through a flood of misery and stigmatisation from the community.

Husband keeps HIV/AIDS secret:

Her troubles started in 1991 when her husband died. She was two months pregnant with her last born child when he fell sick and died.

"At that time, people said that he was being bewitched. It was strange and I did not believe that. I was a staunch Catholic."

Nangendo gave birth in November 1991 and discovered the following year that her husband had died of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses.

"During the pregnancy, I kept getting complications in my private parts. The doctors kept saying they were pregnancy-related," she recalls. Touched by her condition, her friends advised her to try Nsambya Hospital, but the complications continued.

This puzzled her a lot. When she heard of a mass HIV/AIDS testing campaign in Bweyogerere she went to get tested.

"At first they did not tell me my fate, but when they did, I was in shock for about a month," she explains, in tears, saying recalling the moments rubs her old wounds raw.

She felt betrayed, but chose to face life as it was. Life, she says, came to a sudden halt - her children dropped out of school and she could hardly afford a meal since she was a stay-home mother at the time of her husband's death.

"Whenever I looked at my children, I broke down. I always knew my days with them were numbered," Nangendo recalls.

"But, I really wanted my children to study. So I went to Kampala Pentecostal Church (now Watoto), seeking help. I was asked for my husband's records, death certificate, treatment records and photos of my children," she recounts.

Some of the children were given scholarships, though Nangendo says the programme was short-lived.

Shaming death prophets

Nangendo, who is currently receiving treatment from Mulago Hospital, says whenever someone dies in Kisenyi or when she goes to the village for a burial, people whisper that she is the next. Others keep wondering how she has lived this long.

"To their disappointment, another person, not me, dies. Still, they say I am next because I am HIV-positive. I have remained stronger and focused on taking my ARVs," she proudly says.

Nangendo recounts how a drunkard once told her she was going to die soon, with her children.

"I grabbed him and beat him up terribly. Unfortunately, days later he died due to cholera - he had had diarrhoea for a whole day," she says.

Abandoned by relatives:

Nangendo's woes seem to be getting more complicated by the day, with her grown children also struggling and unable to help her financially.

"I have been struggling alone. Most of my children did not go far with education due to lack of money. My first born daughter has been living around here in Kisenyi running a stall, but has now left. She is also struggling."

Her second born got lost after his wife's death. "It took us long to find out where he was. Later, we learnt he is living in Masaka, deep in the village," Nangendo says, observing: "The others are totally incapacitated to help me - they have no known source of money."

All this, she says has been a hard lesson.

Putting the past behind:

Despite the misery, Nangendo says she has put her harrowing past behind her.

"I have learnt a lot about HIV/AIDS. I can now talk to people about it and how to handle it in case of infection. I have been counselled and I can share the knowledge with other people," she boasts. Nangendo counsels that handling HIV/AIDS is easy.

"Those who kill themselves because they are infected are naturally killers - they just hate life," she observes.

"I am HIV-positive and every person knows it, but some people here in Kisenyi have decided to suffer in silence. They have refused to accept the reality, yet it cannot be hidden," Nangendo adds.

Hopeful about the future:

Currently, Nangendo is attending an adult literacy class in Kisenyi.She says she missed the opportunity to go to school as a child because her parents did not value girl-child education.

She says: "After learning Luganda, I want to move to English. You see the world is changing, so I want to learn the English language as well."

Request for a house:

Nangendo requests people of good will to come to her rescue, especially regarding decent shelter.

With her knowledge on HIV/AIDS, she says she can work with NGOs in mobilisation and awareness campaigns so that she can earn money to build herself a permanent house.

"A small brick and sand house, for instance, even if it is one room, is all I want. I need help," she pleads.

For now, Nangendo lives her life one day at a time. Knowing that her predicament was not of her choosing, but not complaining either. She has hope and with that, life.



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