“My story is embarrassing but I am giving myself another chance, after I messed up”

My name is Rose Naigaga (not real name). I am 19 years old. I am a resident of Buwenge town, Jinja district. I live with my grandmother. I have never seen my father. And my mother lives in the city [Kampala].

I was in Senior Two at a school in Kamuli district when the President ordered the closure of schools [to control the spread of COVID-19] in March 2020.

My story is embarrassing. I fear to talk about it. But since you are from far, I believe you will not tell anyone nearby about it.

About two months after the closure of schools, I got pregnant. We were not schooling. We were just moving about. You know, when you live with a grandmother, and you finish house chores, you have nothing left to do. I used not to live here during school days. I used to live in Kamuli, at my uncle’s place. When they closed schools is when I was brought back here.

I got pregnant but I didn’t even know that I was pregnant. I thought I was just ill. I thought I would be fine. I didn’t have any idea how pregnancy affects women. It is a friend of mine who noticed it and told me that I was pregnant. She was older, in Senior Four. I was scared about everything. I was scared about the pregnancy. I was scared of people at home. She told me her auntie had medicine that could help me terminate the pregnancy.

I went with her. Her auntie gave me tea and other things boiled in a source pan. I drank. Soon after, I felt a lot of pain in the womb. Three days passed and nothing was coming out. The pain only increased. I would ask my friend and her auntie what would happen next and they were just keeping mum. One time I asked my friend and she said “handle your own issues. I was only helping you”. But I was in a lot of pain. One day the thing pooped out.

I feared to tell anyone at home that I had aborted. But I was going through a lot of pain, and I was bleeding profusely. My friend too was terrified. I was going through pain day and night and I thought I was going to die.  

My grandmother found out and she was angry. She fumed. She told me to go away. She said I would not die in her home. Remember she is my maternal grandmother, not paternal. So [culturally] I cannot be buried here. She told me to walk to my paternal place. Our place is far, in Iganga, I don’t even know there because I have never been there. I only hear about it. I grew up with my grandmother.

One morning I went to the well. I was in a lot of pain but I could not even say “no”. If you live with someone, and you have angered them like I did, you have to do whatever they want you to do. I had seen one medical worker but he said he would not be able to help me. Maybe he feared that I would die from his hands – remember it was an abortion. At the well is where I met Richard (Musasizi) [a peer educator with Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU)]. By that time, from inside me were popping out rotten things. He took me for treatment.

I used to see him but I didn’t even know him. It is a friend who referred me to him. People used to wonder who that was looking after me. My grandmother one time asked about him but I just kept quiet. If someone is helping you, you don’t have to ask many questions. They might change their mind.

He looked after me as if I was his relative. I thought he was going to ask for money, which I did not have. The man who made me pregnant was poor, very poor. He was a taxi conductor. He had even run away from the town. They had told him that my grandmother was going to imprison him. He was not really old but he had a wife and three children. When he put me in trouble all he did was to take away his family from this place. I have seen him again but he now fears to get anywhere close to me, especially after he heard that he was going to be imprisoned.

I am now fine. I am healed. I even play football. These days I am just home. My grandmother has a small eating-place. She sells food. I work with her, especially washing plates and fetching water. I have no hope of returning to school. My mother got angry with me, and my grandmother has a lot of responsibilities.

My mother takes care of me, fine, but it is mostly my grandmother. My mother has been contributing to my school fees once in a while. It is mostly my grandmother who has been paying. But now she is even unwell. My chances of returning to school are very slim.

I would really love to return to school, to be like others, but that is not possible now. 

Men still approach me but I am now different. I have learnt what to do. I don’t want to mess up again. I am now looking for money to go and learn hairdressing because I know I will not return to school. No one will pay for me school fees. They all got angry. I know deep inside their hearts they are very angry. And now, when I look at myself, I think I am too old to return to school.

What you have to understand is that we are not returning to school any time soon. Schools will be opened maybe after some years, maybe three years. That is why I am looking for money to go and learn hairdressing – I leave school once and for all.

My grandmother would maybe have liked that I go back to school. But because of the current circumstances, she too has advised that I learn some technical skill. What I know is that even if I return to school, I will not go beyond Senior Four. The highest I can go is Senior Four. And from what I see, those who reach Senior Four also go and learn hairdressing – so it makes no difference. I approached someone to teach me hairdressing but she asked for a lot of money, a whole UGX 400,000 (USD 112.4). That is money I have never touched in my life.

I have seen a number of my friends during lockdown. Some of them are pregnant while others have given birth. I had a very close friend. We used to walk together in this town. We were classmates. We were supposed to undergo abortion together but I was the first to go. When she saw what I was going through when I had just aborted she feared. She now has a baby. They gave her away, in a certain village. Their father abandoned them when they were young. When her mother learnt of her pregnancy she told her to go and join her “husband.” She is only lucky that her boyfriend is young; they are the same size, not like in my case. The boy was not schooling. He did not have a wife or children, like it was in my case.

I was forgiven. I now live home. I don’t want to get married now. I have a lot of plans. I want to make money. Many people here got to know about my story but I am trying to put it in the past. I am giving myself another chance, after I messed up.

I have a message for the girls who are in my age bracket. Men are cunning. He will convince you yet he has a wife. He knows very well that he is taking you nowhere. You end up in trouble, with no one to help you. I was lucky. Although I lost somehow, I got someone to help me. I would be dead by now.

Story as told to DDRN correspondent William Odinga Balikuddembe

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William Odinga Balikuddembe is a science journalist based in Kampala, Uganda