One girl's story from Uganda

From Lois Pollock's diary

Appearing from the depths of the matoke plantation, Grace ran and pinched my arm painfully hard before she scurried away giggling.  Aged four, she’d never seen a 'Muzungu'. I met her again - in Kampala when she was fifteen. A slim voluptuous teenage girl, vivid pink revealing lycra top pulled low and tight, and a very short skirt that skittered over her compact bottom.

Grace was out of boarding school for the weekend: school fees were paid by an absentee uncle.

She talked excitedly of university, becoming a singer, dancer, model, maybe a doctor, and of travel.  The world was hers. I bought her compulsory English texts so she could complete her 'O' level examinations. She pouted when I refused glittery clothes and make-up. I said she must focus on school work, and indicated disapproval of a boyfriend ten years her senior. She denied having sex with him. 

I intended to help her financially through university.

She seemed fine. Rebellious, ebullient, a good kid. Not so different from how my own daughter had been at that age. Her circumstances however were completely different from those of my daughter but I thought that the boarding school afforded some level of security.  During vacation, she boarded with a decent elderly couple. 

Fast forward to my visit to Kampala 2010.  Grace had dropped school. The elderly couple suffered their own catastrophes – a stroke necessitated 24 hour care. His wife attempted this while running their small general store. Grace didn’t want to be a carer.

Cutting herself adrift, she'd ditched the older man, preferring a seventeen-year-old boy. She’d dropped out of school. The boy looked fourteen and sold paper bags in Nakasero market. They lived in one room, 12’ x 10’. Grace was eight months pregnant and had at least booked for a hospital birth. Her 'bump' looked too small. I organized a further clinic appointment: it confirmed her dates. 
Grace was scared. An orphaned child, she'd long ago left her very rural village and her grandmother. Now it seemed no-one cared about her, except for Daniel and his mum. But neither Daniel nor his mother had more than a hazy understanding of the process of childbirth.  No-one had any money.

How could two adults and a new born live in a measly room, sharing an outside cooking area and pit latrine with twelve others?  There was no alternative.

When asked, I described childbirth and care of a newborn. Grace's face crumpled. I tried to load a DVD on the internet so she could see a ‘live’ birth. It was frustrating - a 10 minute film kept stopping while it loaded but Grace sat patiently, watching and absorbing the information. At a good bookshop in an expensive shopping mall frequented by ex-patriates and wealthy Ugandans, I looked for a local guide to birth and motherhood. There was nothing and in desperation, I bought a book on childbirth, breast-feeding and care of a newborn written for an affluent parent in another country than Uganda. At least some of the information would be useful and Grace read it from cover to cover - again and again.

We shopped for things she’d need in hospital. Muslin squares, nappies, sanitary towels.  She rejected baby clothes – superstitious, she believed they'd bring bad luck. Her eyes lit up when I bought her lipsticks and nail varnish. I promised money for baby clothes after the birth.

Saddened, I left Uganda a few days later. The feisty, beautiful, rebellious girl who had crossed my path from time to time since she was four years old, had been replaced by a young woman with too many pressures and not a lot of hope resting on her shoulders.  A baby’s arrival could not restore lost dreams.