August 2, 2010

Maggie lives in a small apartment complex South of the main road that runs through Wobulenzi. Maggie’s daughter was tending a fire in front of their apartment, and called her mother from behind a curtain where she had been sleeping. Like so many women in Uganda, Maggie is strikingly gorgeous, with a fatal scar. Her’s is her left eye – left white and listless after an accident involving a large fuel truck left her cornea damaged.
I had been told that her story was striking, and so I asked Maggie to tell me about her life, starting with her childhood.  We started from the backend, focusing on her professional life as first a nurse, her shift to counseling, and her present struggle to provide for her daughter after losing her job due to her recent blindness.

Maggie nodded when I asked for her background, and started by telling me that everything changed in 2007, when the fuel truck hit. She told me, secondly, that she has spent a long time learning that she must not lose hope or courage, but that “Jesus is able.”

As a child, Maggie experienced divorce – something most Ugandan children never see, due to cultural disapproval. Maggie’s father left when she was three, and her trusting mother sent Maggie to live with him and her step mother. Maggie looked hard at me with her limited vision as she spoke about her father, and how, when she was about five, he left her step mother with her for the day with strict instructions to make sure that Maggie was fed till she was satisfied. She talked with her hands as she showed me how her stepmother had made a big pot of irish potatoes, and a full tilapia fish that Maggie’s hands in front of me measured to be about ten inches.

Maggie sat down for lunch, only to find that her step mother was bent on having her eat the whole thing. Maggie told her it wasn’t possible, and her step mother told her that her father would have her eat until she was satisfied, and that if she couldn’t finish, she would be beaten. Her mother followed her beating with a pot of boiling tea that stripped the hair off of her head, and took the skin from her ribs and right arm. Maggies’ mother would return her to her father three times, to three different step mothers that abused or neglected her.  He continued on to disown her twice before she turned 8. His last visit was a declaration that she was to be buried with her mother’s family – the most extreme way of disowning one’s child in Ugandan culture. Maggie said her mother’s insistence on sending her back to her father’s had been an attempt at following the Ugandan proverb, “do not repay bad with bad.”

Maggie paused in her story after talking about her childhood, and turned towards the direction of Morris Onapa, a local helping to run the Life With Hope program in Wobulenzi.  He was sitting beside me in her one room home, sweating from the blistering heat, like I was. Her eyes filled with tears as she reached for his hand with both of hers. “Friend, you give me hope,” she said. “You gave me back hope I had lost.”

I felt my own eyes filling with tears. People like Maggie take my view of the world and turn it into something inadequate.

Maggie did exceptionally well in her classes in secondary school, earning her a sponsorship that helped to put her through nursing school. There, she took counseling as a required prerequisite, and learned that she had a passion for helping those who had experienced abuse like she had. After working as a midwife for several years, Maggie continued on to earn a degree in counseling, sponsored by Plan International, an organization working to relieve child poverty.  She afterward began work as a child and adult counselor.

Maggie switched to a different kind of counseling after discovering that she was pregnant, and the father of her child had both infected her with AIDS, and abandoned her. After giving birth to her daughter, Irene, Maggie began work as the chairwoman of the Katikamu post test club, a local organization supporting those who have been tested for HIV.

Maggie had been traveling to Jinja on business when a fuel truck crushed her taxi. Unable to pay the fees for surgery, she purchased herself a pair of expensive glasses, and began to search for options for herself. After losing her job, Maggie almost lost hope on herself.

Morris showed up, a few months later, with food and some money from the local church to pay her daughter’s fees.  He told me, as we walked away from our meeting with Maggie, that he is hoping to get her on a monthly sponsorship so she can receive food and transportation for her ARVs.

To inquire about helping her, email


angela said...

i'm crying, again. maggie astounds me. and she looks like nicole to me, so that moves me.

divorce is looked down upon in a culture full of men practicing polygamy. figures.