It’s a cool evening, and the sun seems to have a few hours allocated to Kampala. I am standing on a street corner, lazily watching the group of men offloading a cargo trailer opposite.
But then a kid appears, ducking under a parked car to pick up a run-over water bottle. The inside linings of his shorts have become threadbare, taking on the appearance of a skirt. Hoisted over his shoulder is a torn sack, half-filled with discarded mineral water bottles. His blue short-sleeved t-shirt has patches and he is barefoot.
"My name is Mulangira Richard. I’m from Kaliro in Lyantonde district. I’ve lost track of time, but I think I’ve been on street maybe for a year," he says. "One day while walking around our village, some woman came driving and stopped besides me. She asked me directions to some primary school. She promised to give me money if I could get in the car and take her there. She was alone in the car.”
Feeling more relaxed, Mulangira puts his bottle-filled sack down, but stills holds onto its top. "When I entered, the glasses of the car windows went up, and she told me not to worry, as she will even bring me back to where she found me. But she was driving in a different direction from that of the school."
"We joined the main road, and started driving towards Masaka. She instead told me we are going to Kampala, from where she will give me work, and pay me at the end of every month. I even didn't know Kampala for I had never been there. I cried throughout the journey, pleading with her to let me return home." When we reached what looked like a very big town, she told me, "This is Kampala." She took me to some market place. Near that market passes a railway—I see it pass by often.
“She told me this is where I will be working from now on. My job was to babysit her baby girl," he says. "The baby was young, still breasfeeding…but not eating. The woman would leave me with the baby and milk in a bottle. I would spend the whole day with the baby, giving it milk, washing its clothes and the ones of it's mum, fetching water and cooking." Mulangira gets animated as he explains his turmoil, illustrating with his free hand.
Mulangira continues, "I had to be careful, otherwise she would beat me if she found her baby crying. Or deny me food. I couldn't plan to escape because I didn't even know where I was or the direction to take me home, and had no money. I stayed there for sometime, but she never paid me any money."
"Then one day, the baby fell and hurt her nose. It bled. The woman was home that day. She first beat me for hurting her baby, then chased me from her house. I walked out with nowhere to go, and only the clothes I was wearing," he says with a tone of sadness in his voice.
While scratching the black patch around his neck, Mulangira says that he just meanders through the streets everyday. "I collect used water bottles for sale. When it gets to a kilo, that’s Shs 200. On a good day, I can get up to 5 kilos. Thats not alot of money; but at least it gets me something to eat," he says.
"I sleep on the streets of Wandegeya. People move are always in the area, and shops are open really late, so it feels secure at night." Meanwhile, he is shifting his body weight from one leg to another, as he uses his toes of his other foot.
"I met another woman who works in Wandegeya food market who has promised to take me back home at the end of the month", Mulangira adds with a lightened face.
"I had left there my parents and five siblings. I was also in primary two. My two eldest brothers are here in Kampala. I have searched for them by walking on the streets hoping to meet them but no success yet," he says, with a look of concern.
As we finish, I can’t in good conscious leave my new comrade empty-handed. I reach into my pocket to give him something to buy a proper lunch. As I hand it to him, he says "No, wait!" First I am puzzled, and the concern in his eyes is more disconcerting. When I look around, three older boys are passing by, kicking a tin.
"If they see me with money, they will waylay me and grab it from me," he says. So we chat more until they have turn the corner, at which point I tell him to go buy himself something to eat for lunch. "I will pick a polythene bag, then tie the money in and strap it around my waist. That way it will be safe," he says.
We wish each other goodbyes, and I leave, hoping that no one grabs his lunch money from him.
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).