The Troubled Children of Uganda

Street children begging in Kampala.
Broken family values is largely responsible for this.
To continue the story of the pregnant girl and the monster teacher (read it here), I agreed to be her father. She wanted to make money out of a man who had impregnated her, and she wanted me to pretend being her father. She was only fourteen years old, and I battled with my conscience over what I was doing. But I was thinking of a documentary film about the troubled children of Uganda today, about parents who fail to handle rebellious teenagers, about the breakdown of family values, which has left children at the mercy of forces beyond their control. 
I thought being this girl’s father would give me an opportunity to use the cinéma vérité technique, I being part of the story, giving the audience a candid ‘insiders’ view of the happenings. It was a scoop. A pregnant teenager. A monster teacher who preys on his students. But before I could proceed, I had to verify the pregnancy, so I suggested a test.
 —
“What for?” the girl said. “He did me without a condom. I’m vomiting every morning. I have missed my periods. Why then should I take a test? If you don’t want to be part of the deal just tell us.”
 —
“Don’t talk like that,” Nalongo, who got me involved in this whole saga, and who would pretend to be her mother, said. “He is right. You need to take a test to be absolutely certain.”
 —
Tales are rife of women who pretend to be pregnant just to get the man to marry them. It had crossed my mind that this girl might just be putting up a show in order to grab money from this teacher. I did not want to be part of such a scheme. I had to be absolutely certain she was pregnant. The girl did not argue much. She agreed to take a test. I thought it would be nice to film her as she went to the pharmacy to get a testing kit, to capture the tests and her reaction to the results on video, so I ran back home and picked up my camera, but she was not impressed. 
 —
“Do you want to put me on agataliko nfuufu?” This is a news program that relies on community reporting. They do not use any professional journalists. Anyone anywhere with a camera, even if it is on a mobile phone, can shoot anything amusing and submit it. They thus feature very absurd but entertaining stories. It put a fear on the common people, for whenever they see a camera they at once think someone is trying to make news for agataliko nfuufu
 —
I tried to explain my purpose to this little girl  – child rights, broken family values, monster teachers, the great divide between parents and teenagers – but she could not comprehend anything. It struck me that the best place to tell her my purposes was not in the dusty street, with people casting us curious glances. I should have done it before we set off. So I shut down the camera and we walked to the pharmacy, hoping to get her to understand my purpose before she took the test.
 —
“Why do you want to take a test?” the lady behind the counter asked the young girl, who in reply gave her a big grin and a giggle. 
Forced child labor, one of the issues I will tackle in this film.
“Well,” the girl said, “You see, I have a little goat at home and I want to know if it is pregnant.”
— 
The pharmacist was not amused. She turned to me, her lips pursed in anger. “Did you pregnant her?”
 —
“NO!” I screamed. “I don’t sleep with goats!”
 —
The girl chuckled. There were several other people in the pharmacy. They overhead my protest and cast me a curious glance, as though to say ‘You protest too much!’  
— 
“You think you can fool me with your stupid goat story?” the lady barked at me. “Aren’t you ashamed to sleep with little girls? She’s young enough to be your daughter! Are there no old women for you to play with?” 
— 
The anger on her face indicated that she had not been laid for a really long time. She was the bulky type – extra big breasts, too big that they looked like she had stuffed herself with a lot of clothing to make them look that big. Her waist line indicated she had given birth ten times or more. She looked over forty, though with her size it was hard to tell. Since I have a perverted writer’s mind, I started to imagine what it would be like for a man to mount a trailer-like being like this one. Will he be able to find her hole, or will he poke the area around her thighs and think he has found it? Won’t she squash him if she went on top? Will the bed break because of too much vibration from this giant? She reminded me of a horror film I once saw, in which a band of youth found a monstrous, vampire animal in bed and it seduced them into banging her. Of course, every boy who had sex with her turned into a vampire. As I stood there looking at her, I did imagine that she could be a great character for a horror-erotic tale.
 —
“Are you jealous?” the girl asked her.
— 
“Me? Jealous? Of what?”
 —

“You are already old,” the girl said. “Why should you be jealous that I’m getting a lot of it while men ignore you?” I clamped my palm on her mouth, but she wriggled away and continued to taunt the woman. “You are old and shapeless! No man can enjoy you! Don’t be jealous of me! I’ll give you advice. Use bananas. They are better than men and they don’t make you pregnant!”

The pharmacy suddenly fell silent. Everyone turned to the girl. The woman was puffing up in anger and I was sure she would explode like a pricked balloon. As bad luck would have it, a policeman walked into the shop as that very moment, and the fat woman at once shouted at him.
— 
“Ah! You came at the right time officer! This man has defiled and impregnated this young girl!”
 —
Next thing I knew, I was in Seeta police post, facing a uniformed officer who had such a huge belly that he was not able to button his shirt. He left it hanging open, a dirty looking vest concealing his obscene tummy. An odor wafted from his armpits, but luckily, a ceiling fan blew it out of the window so I did not have to suffer like the characters in The Felistas Fable.  
 —
“You will go to jail for seven years,” the policeman said. “Defilement, or sex with a minor, is a capital offense. You might even be sentenced to death.” He had introduced himself as the OC, the officer in charge of the police post. All I saw was an officer in charge of corruption. “But it depends on how you want to handle it.”
Street children ‘bounce’ past uncaring adults in Kampala.
Their tale is one of parents failing to cope with teenagers.
 “I don’t even know the girl’s name,” I said.
 —
“Really? Then how did you seduce her? Is she a prostitute?”
 —
“I did not seduce her!”
 —
“So why do you want her to test for pregnancy?”
— 
They had seen my camera. They had heard my story already, but like many other Ugandans, they do not understand the concept of a creative documentary. They asked me, ‘Which NGO is funding it?’ ‘It is for TV news? Which TV? Show us your ID.’ When I could not prove that I was working for an NGO, or any TV station, it confirmed to them my guilt.
 —
To make matters worse, the girl had escaped. She fled the moment the cop pounced on me. I did not know her names, or where she came from. 
 —
“We are human beings,” the policeman said. “Talk to us, we shall understand. Just kitu kidogo will be able to clear your name.”
 —
I was so broke, having just finished making The Felistas Fable, that I could not afford the smallest of bribes, not even of ten thousand shillings for that would make me starve for two days. My only option seemed to be with Nalongo. She would testify on my behalf and save me.
— 
But when she heard I was in police hands, she refused to come. She switched off her phone, closed her shop and vanished. She has since migrated from the area. Her flight tended to confirm my earlier suspicions that this whole thing was a scam.
 —
So there I was, in the police station facing a fictitious crime, victim unknown. I haggled with the policemen for nearly six hours. Eventually, they let me go, but I was fifty thousand shillings poorer. I cursed all the way back home. I had lost enough money to feed me for five days. 
The street child rapper, Razor Blade, performing in a night club
Still, the incident sowed the seeds of a story. I then proceeded to find other characters, and so far I have a street child who wants to be a music star. He is a talented rapper who goes by the names Razor Blade. He ran away from home following a disagreement with his parents. I have not yet got the full story, but it surely fits the theme of broken families and parent-teenager disconnect in Uganda today. 
 —
And the time spent in the police post was not entirely wasted. I heard about two other pregnant girls (one also by her teacher, the other by a fellow teenager). If I play my cards well, one of them will end up in the film. I hope it is the girl who got defiled by her teacher.
 —
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Randy pregnant girl and the Beastly Teacher

Who will protect the little girls of Africa?
Shortly after Christmas, I became a father – or rather, I nearly became one. I do not know how to put it exactly. I did not know I was old enough to be a teenage girl’s father. She must be sixteen, or maybe fourteen. I could not really tell. I had never met her before.
I spent Christmas holed up in my little office, behind the laptop, sometimes putting finishing touches on my first feature film, The Felistas Fable, other times rewriting my first romance novella, which will hopefully come out later this year. I was feeling bad about myself that I had made a feature film before publishing a book, and that the first book I’d ever publish is a romance. Or rather the publisher thinks it’s a romance and I was not seeing it like that at all. Anyway, being holed up with two big works on the desk meant I had not shaved for a long time. Maybe I thought was Father Christmas and so had to grow a really long and unkempt beard, and maybe that beard made this girl think I could be her father.
 
I was on my way to the saloon, but I stopped by this little shop where I always buy petty stuff to get airtime. I found the girl sitting on the bench, her face stained with tears. I asked her what the problem was, but she ignored me. So I turned to the shopkeeper, a lady we all call Nalongo, though I’ve never seen her twins. I do not even think she has a husband, but a few children are always running around her shop. Maybe she divorced the father and the twins are with him. I’ve never really found out.
 
“Did you beat this young girl?” I asked her.
Youth in Moroto doing the courtship dance at school.
Does such increase teenage sexual activities?
 
“No,” she replied. “She only wants a soda. It is Christmas and she hasn’t tasted any soda. You know how children are during Christmas.”
 
“Ah,” was all I managed to say, as I passed over the money and got the air time cards. I glanced at the girl, the way you glance at a person who you’ve just been told has a few lose wires in the head, and I saw the fury in her eyes. Why is she angry with me, I thought, yet it is Nalongo who made the joke?

“I’m not a child,” she hissed, still glaring at me. “And I don’t want a soda.”

Girls Education Movement Club in Kitgum perform a drama in support of pregnant girls who return to school.
A character in the film The Young Ones Who Won’t Stay Behind. She walked miles everyday to get to school, proving the point that no matter a child’s character, they love school.

Tears rolled down her face, revealing the great volume of emotions that were pent up inside her. I could not stand it. So I simply nodded and begun to walk away. But hardly had I taken a few steps than she said, “Wait.”

I waited. She said something to Nalongo that I did not get, for she whispered. They talked amidst themselves for a few seconds, and I stood there sheepishly, not knowing what to do. Finally, Nalongo turned to me and asked, “Where are you going?”
 
“To shave.”
 
“Don’t shave. Just for a few days. You look better with your hair like that.” I did not want to look
into the mirror for I was afraid of the animal I would see. I know this Pinoy girl would be pissed off to see me with such a wild crop of mousy hair on my head, and with such scraggy beards on my chin that I might have been a monkey (Do monkey’s have beards? Maybe not. Maybe a goat.) So whatever she said, I was resolved to get a shave. “We need your help.”
 
“You do?”
 
“Please be my father?” This came from the girl, and it was so outrageous that I giggled (like a teenage girl).
 

I could be Father Christmas, I thought, since the beards were long. But clearly, the way the girl looked at me she was not thinking of Father Christmas. Nalongo came over to me and whispered the situation. The girl was pregnant. A teacher – her ex teacher from Mukono High School – was responsible. She did not want to abort. She wanted to make the teacher pay a large sum of money that would not only cater for her medical and pregnancy needs, but also pay for a course in beauty and hairdressing. The part I was to play was simple. Pretend to be her father. Scream at the teacher and threaten to throw him into jail unless he parted with three million shillings.

But I did not want to play that part. I’m not the screaming type. I’m not the belligerent type. I am not able to intimidate a fly, anyone who meets me for half a minute will be able to figure that out. I could not do what this girl and Nalongo were asking me. “Why don’t you just go to the police and arrest the man? That way, he will pay ten million if you ask for it.”

But she could not go to the police for it would involve her real parents. Then, she would not see even a shilling of the money the teacher paid. Her parents and the police would distribute it amongst themselves, the teacher would go scot free, and she would be left to suffer with the baby for the rest of her life. The best way out for her was if this teacher put the money in her hands. That way, she could be sure of making a life for herself. Apparently, her father refused to pay for her education after he found her naked with a boyfriend in the bathroom. (Her father refused to listen to her excuse, “We were only playing.”) She had developed a reputation as a loose girl, so her father did not see the point in educating a prostitute. She did strike me as the typical rebellious teenager who thinks it is cool to drink, smoke weed and go night clubbing in Gabana and Satellite Beach Mukono. I did not know why I should ever get involved with such a character. I did not even know her names.

 
Please Daddy don’t get angry. We were just playing

“Please,” Nalongo said. “Help the girl. I know you don’t know her, but I was once her neighbor in Bajo. That is where she stays. She calls me aunt. She is a good girl and I want her to overcome this situation. After her parents see that she is putting herself through beauty school, they might tolerate the pregnancy, but if they know about it right now they might kill her.”

I looked at the girl again, expecting to see a bulge in her tummy, but I did not see anything. No sign to show that she was pregnant. I wrestled with the decision. I often think of myself as a social activist. It’s the first line I write whenever I’m sending out a grant application for my documentary films. I describe myself as a filmmaker and social activist. So what was I going to do about this little girl?
 
My storytelling instincts took over. Maybe I could make a documentary about her, a film about defilement and horrible teachers who prey on their students, about ‘swaggerific’ teenagers and parents who have no clue how to handle them, who think stopping to pay their school fees is the only way to discipline a child. I could see a whole big issue there to work with, but I had to be certain of the facts. Was she really pregnant, and was this teacher really responsible?
 
“I’ve been vomiting every morning for three days,” she said. “I missed my periods. This teacher is the only person I’ve slept with in the last six months.” She paused, then added. “Without a condom.”
 
“Oh,” I said. It kind of made sense. I was going to suggest that she actually takes a pregnancy test, but somehow the words did not come out. All I could think about was that she had slept with other boys (how many?) using condoms, and I remember the old saying that condoms are not really perfect. So it might not be the teacher. What kind of film then would I make?
 
“He told me he could put my name on the USE list,” she went on, unprompted, and tears were rolling down her face afresh. USE. Universal Secondary Education. A government program to provide free education. If she got her name in, she could continue going to school even if her parents no longer paid her fees. “I agreed to sleep with him. I have never slept with an old person before but I wanted to at least finish A Level.”
 
Will a documentary I make keep the smiles on their faces?
Of course with the baby coming, she could no longer pursue this dream. She had to drop out. Being wise, she of a skill to support herself – thus beauty school.
As I watched the tears roll down her cheeks, a selfish part of my brain wished I had a camera to preserve the moment. Unfortunately, that is how my silly brain works these days. I can only think in terms of capturing everything on camera. Instead of comforting the girl, I was thinking of how lovely a scene it would be in a film. Cinéma vérité. Pure and unadulterated documentary. But such moments never find you with a camera.
 
It struck me how pathetic I was. For though I convinced myself that I wanted to make a social action film, a small voice whispered that all I was doing was take advantage of a little girl in her misery, the way the teacher had used her in her desire to continue studying. And the voice urged me to help her without any ulterior motives.
 
“Okay,” I told Nalongo. “What do you want me to do?”
 

Ha, what happened after that is a really long story, and I think it’s best if I continued it in the next post. Right now, I have to finish this romance novella – the second one I’m writing in two months! – so pleasecome back to hear what happened to the girl. Maybe, at the end of the year, you will be seeing a documentary film about her.

PS: The follow up article is here http://www.dilmandila.com/2013/02/the-troubled-children-of-uganda.html

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