In the heart of Kisenyi slum is a vegetable stall, not any different from very many stalls that line the city roads on the outside but is home to six people, two women and four children on the inside. Looking at it, you will see tomatoes, carrots, bananas and a few other food condiments, but behind the bursting colors is a home, for Florence Nalwoga known to her neighbors as Mulokole, her daughter-in-law and four grand children.
Florence was born in 1957 in Nkumba on Entebbe road. In 1969 at the age of nine, her father passed on which marked the end of education for her, as he was the family’s only breadwinner. In her aunt’s care, she moved to Mukono district where she met the man who would be her husband and father to her only child.
“I met him when I was 15 years old. He worked in a tea factory in Walusubi but he hadn’t gone to school as well, so he did not have much. We had a child immediately, a son. My husband was young too, he was twenty-two and he had childish tendencies. He liked women, especially schoolgirls and we often fought about this. At some point I could not tolerate his infidelity anymore so I left him and decided to forge a life for my son and I,” she says. “I never enjoyed my marriage. I was young, we had nothing and it was a struggle all through.”
Florence came to Kampala to look for a job after leaving her husband. Through odd jobs
she managed to send her son to Muteesa II primary school where he did not go further than primary three due to lack of school fees.
“This was around Obote’s time, life was hard. I found a job as a waitress in Owino market and got some money to pay school fees for my child. The war made it harder to live in Kampala, soldiers would find you walking and take your property, children going to school were interrupted by the instability just like you hear in the stories” she narrates from inside her house, where we sit. “We lived through hard times. When he dropped out of school, he started fetching water for people. He later moved on to selling firewood and second hand shoes. At 23 years old, he found a wife.”
As she talks, she removes a browned threadbare blanket from a sleeping baby right under the slab on which the vegetables sit. The baby in turn stirs peacefully and goes back to sleep when she pats it on the back.
“Up to this day, we have never gone to her home. We have always wanted to visit her parents but never had a chance to because we couldn’t raise money to go.” Says Florence as she stands up to attend to a customer.
“She is a good woman, she loved me very much and I loved her back,” she adds. “She advised him to get a house in Muzaana, Mengo where they stayed for a little while until the land was sold and they came to stay with me. I advised him to try different businesses, selling firewood, hawking second hand shoes and old sacks.”
Whenever her son’s wife had a child, she would be called upon to look after the new baby as both parents went out to look for work.
“I never abandoned them. Their first children were twins and because she had had a bad pregnancy she was admitted for two months in Mulago. That hospital helped us a lot because she had all her children there and we did not pay.”
Seven children later, the quarrels over finances between Florence’s son and his wife only intensified leading him to abandon his family because he could not handle the financial strain.
“It has been one and a half years since he has been gone, abandoning the wife and children who now live with me. Just before he’s leaving, a kettle of boiling water had poured on her right arm causing her serious burns. It has not regained full mobility since and she still feels the heat from the scar. My sister took one child with her to Ssembabule and another sister is looking after two others in Kyaggwe, leaving me with four of the children the youngest being 8 months old. He would come and go saying that he is working or looking for a job but it has been almost a year since we have seen him.”
Florence along with her daughter-in-law and grand children has stayed in the stall for the past eighteen months, paying rent of UGX 50,000. On rainy days, the house floods which forces the two adults and the older children to sleep in a sitting posture. All the cooking is done outside, right in front of the house and the children spend their days playing with other kids in the neighborhood, since they do not go to school.
Given the chance, Florence harbors the desire of opening a shop selling second hand clothes but for now, she rises early in the morning to go to Owino market where she buys fruits and vegetables for sale at her stall.