By Jon Pen de Ngong
Armed with a syringe and needle loaded with a painkiller injectable, every minute, the self-nursing Namakula Annet, 27, would pierce around to numb an open deep and wide cellulite wound on her forearm: her radius and ulna bones with muscles exposed to harsh weather, both rain and shine; and dust from the buses and taxis plying the road.
For over a year now, she has been sitting there from 7AM to 7PM receiving public handout payments on a roadside pavement facing Owino Market in Kampala. With a dry and wry smile, she would tell her story in a soft but optimistic voice to anyone who cares to talk to her. The sore sight that looks like a horror movie scene does not attract many eyes, though.
Annet, a Ugandan from Luweero District, has only four objectives for every passing day from any city Good Samaritan; a meal, some coins for buying Pethidine injection, a please-help-me-cut-this-arm request, and a decent burial if at all the illness would take her life.
“I am tired of being here for years. I don’t want to be collected dead from the roadside, but I know I won’t die,” she swore.
The evening before this interview, a South Sudanese girl, who is a refugee and student with the heart of humanity, passed down this road. She fell for and over Annet. Asked about her connection with Annet, Ajah Chol told Jon Pen, a volunteer journalist and activist, “I had to listen to her patiently because my tribe is Woman and my nationality the Humanity.”
The young girl stressed this point while fighting back tears lest she spoiled the ongoing interview with Annet. When she first posted Annet’s pictures on Social Media, many people reacted, with sympathy and others with skepticism on her connection with the abandoned, ill woman in the streets of the Uganda’s capital.
“Besides the fact that she is my fellow woman like any other Ugandan colleague in my College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kampala International University, we, South Sudanese, are forever indebted to Uganda and Ugandans. Imagine we were refugees in South Africa today! I cannot easily find in my heart the best payback to this beautiful country and her hospitable people.” She is a second year student of International Relations and Diplomatic Studies at KIU.
Similarly, Annet, herself was wondering why this smartly dressed young lady (in the picture below) would be enduring the stench of her ulcer, sitting and chatting with a patient that has been dumped and left to rot to her slow death by the roadside.
“Thank you, anyway. But I still wonder that you have come back with your brother!” She pulled her face in a sharp-deep pain, then sank her 5-militre instrument into the wound for temporary analgesia. We both groaned on her behalf. “Please, come back tomorrow. Maybe I will not complete a sensible story now,” she suggested.
However, her resolve as judged from her face and soft voice kept the good Samaritans on with the conversation. Two roadside preachers brought a bottle of water and pressed quick emotional prayers on her. She heartily thanked them, everyone around, and God.
Again, her main goal is to do away with that arm that is threatening to do harm to her life. It is the left one that is dying, the right arm is drying back to health, and the rest of her body is very much alive. Her general skin is healthy, though she named the disease as skin cancer, which was later found at Mulago Hospital to be cellulitis, a dangerous but treatable chronic bacterial invasion. She names a number of hospitals she had gone to, though has lost their contacts and medical documents.
She managed to overcome the same wound on her right arm, which has healed, though somewhat appears shriveled. It is the only partner and part that she uses to nurse and feed herself with.
Then there is this 14- year old Bridget, one of Annet’s two street girls, providing much of the pethidine injection into her wound, sometimes accurately into her vein using an ordinary needle. Street families seem to live and survive on their own planet, though on our streets on earth here.
But this rotting fore arm, “People have given up on me. They think I’m going to die. No, what will die is my arm.” She however clings onto the belief that the arm with that killer-looking ulcer can heal like her right arm did.
She fell ill in 2017, but had not had any proper treatment. Her father died but her mother is in the village – equally helpless. Dora, her elder sister lives in Luweera. She is married but cannot raise enough fund for her amputation and healing.
Nevertheless, Annet Namakula has never given up. She completed her Advanced Level (S.6) 4 years ago but was caught on the way to university, her medical aspirations cut short just like that; or, maybe, not, depending on how soon help may come.
She wanted and still wants to do medicine, and has now settled her war on oncology or similar medical complications, once she gets out of the streets back to her life.
“When I go back to Luweero Secondary School or my village, people cannot believe it is me. But anytime I separate with this arm if it refuses to heal, they will accept me,” she empathizes this point with very much life on her tan face.
Her main enemy, as from her tone and street-toughened face, is her bad arm. In a tear-shedding expression, she is not waiting for her death, only death is waiting for her arm alone.
She raised a fist with her surviving arm when Ajah Chol promised to launch a fundraiser campaign online in partnership with her sister, Dora, and any other friend or a nurse that she can appoint into the team, most likely her street sisters who escort her to hospitals or procure her that opioid addiction injectable called Pethidine, which is smuggled to the streets from major hospitals.
Despite the fact that street begging and donation were banned by law in Uganda recently, a few cases like Annet’s are seen as exceptional.
Ajah is determined to defy all odds to see the Ugandan sister win the battle back to her normal life. She said she had seen South Sudanese girls and women with such wounds but from gunshots, and that she had not got the chance to help them. “Now this is the time.”