Over the past weeks, news about the outbreak of Ebola in Uganda have dominated the news. Latest information shows that the epidemic is slowly being contained. It spreads among other ways, through physical contact with a person suffering from Ebola or carrying the virus that causes Ebola.
But Kasuule Emmanuel, a nine-year old street kid who spends his time in the congested Kampala downtown is not bothered. In fact, “No, I have not heard about that Ebola disease,” he says. He is leaning against the wall of Shoprite Supermarket, shielded from the late afternoon sun. “I come from Mukyimwanyi, in Luweero district,” says Kasuule, in a low voice, arms folded against his chest. “Mum must have left me when I was very young, because I don’t remember her face or where she went. Dad took me to Jajja’s (grandmother’s) place, where I lived before coming to Kampala. Jajja could not afford to send me and my younger brother to school, so we spent days at home fetching water, collecting firewood and digging.”
“Some friends convinced me that Kampala has many good things. Our plan was to come and take a tour for a few days, then go back home. But the friends I came with disappeared a day after we had arrived. Almost a month has passed, and I am stranded with no money to transport me back home. I also fear going home because I don’t know how Jajja will react.”
A sharp whistle from a nearby road junction pierces through the air, followed by the sound of roaring engines. The after-work traffic jam is increasing. “I sleep in Kisenyi, in a wooden cinema hall that another kid took me to. During the day, I am wandering around Shoprite Supermarket and along Entebbe Road. At times, I walk up to Entebbe town looking for scrap. I go collecting, by the time I get there, I have a full sack. After collecting the scrap, I either sell it there or bring it and sell it here in Kampala. Mostly I sell it there because they pay a higher price per kilo, and it’s heavy carrying all that scrap back and forth. Entebbe town has a lot of scrap because there are not many street kids. I go there during the day but can’t stay for a night.”
Kasuule’s arms are swinging freely. He is balancing his body from one leg to the other while stepping on the outside skirt of the wall. “Entebbe is full of soldiers guarding the area. If they find you sleeping on street at night, they arrest you and take you to their tents. There they beat you seriously before taking you to police. Those soldiers don’t speak Luganda, so there’s no way you will explain to them. They only speak Swahili, they must be Kenyans.”
Small droplets are falling on the windshield of cars parked in the supermarket’s parking yard and along the street. “I have been arrested from there twice. The first time we had gone many. After giving us canes, they told us to go and never come back. The second time I was lucky, one of the soldiers spoke Luganda, so I explained to him that I am looking for scrap to sell. They forgave me and told me to run. “
“I have no time for doing anything in particular. Anytime I feel like sleeping, I look for a place or shade and lie down. If I feel hungry, I search for scrap, go sell it and get money to buy what to eat.”
The droplets are still falling on the windshield. A woman wearing a reflector jacket is holding a broom in each arm, sweeping the pavement. The sun is fast disappearing. “I will have to go home eventually, after I have saved enough money for my transport. I want to see my brother.” He says this with a voice filled with determination.
They are kids (dogo = small) on the streets of Kampala (“Kla”), Uganda. They’re invisible to most; but this is their Twitter diary, @Kladogo, written by Kampala-based journalist Hillary Muheebwa (@MuheebwaH) and sponsored by AddisTunes.com (@AddisTunes).