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Pulakiseda Interview

{note: this is another segment in our infrequent series of interviews with the Mamas. Unlike most of the blog posts here, this one is unedited in order to give you a better feel for the voice of both our Mama — in this case, Pulakiseda, a successful grocery store operator whom Andrew often mentions in his reports — and of Andrew, who wrote this.

This piece mentions a new fridge that Pulakiseda recently received. This was thanks to Mary W., a longtime and very generous donor. We are humbled by her continued contribution to our work, and thank her very much. Please enjoy! -ed}

This edition of “My Story” like all the others before this,  presents to us a uniqueness in personality and history of one of the Mamas. It is safe to say that for me all these interviews have given me a greater depth in understanding the community we serve. As a fellow Ugandan, I thought that maybe surely I have heard of these stories before and nothing would be shocking to me. But I tell you for sure, there is always something that we learn when stories are told. I am always anticipating with curiosity, what’s next? 

Pulakiseda Nabukeera was born in 1978, in  a village called “Kooki” in Rakai district to parents called Micheal and Benaretha, who have both passed on. She was the 5th of 9 children. Of the 9 children, 5 were boys and 4 were girls. Like most traditional Ugandan families in the countryside, they grew up doing a lot of farming but luckily for them they also farmed for cash. Her mother would garden, make local brew and many other things to ensure that the family was sustained. 

Pulakiseda’s mother was a mother who was tough and never at one time let them lay down lazy but rather made them work. Pulakiseda recalls that even on some of the days, her mother would send her to get farm workers but she would ask her mother to pay her the wages. This is how Pulakiseda started cultivating her working spirit and this has helped her until to date.

Pulakiseda like many young girls who grew up in this era, most started school but never saw it through until the end. She went to school until primary seven and was never able to join secondary school. For many years she, after dropping out of school, along with her other siblings continued to do house chores like gardening, fetching water and firewood. They would brew local alcoholic beverages and they would sell to the local community people as it was quite big. 

Going to school had its challenges because her mother was wife number two, so it was always difficult for her father to balance the needs of this home. This never stopped Pulakiseda from chasing her goal but she only went as far as Primary 7 like I mentioned earlier. She dropped out and continued to work with her mother as they supported her siblings to proceed with school. I don’t know if “lucky” is the appropriate word to use in this case but unlike other girls who dropped out of school because of pregnancy or poverty related issues. Pulakiseda dropped out of school under circumstances that she too couldn’t explain. Whereas she dropped out like I mentioned earlier, this paved the way for the rest of the younger siblings to get an education.

After dropping out of school, Pulakiseda continued her life at home, doing all chores as mentioned before. On one afternoon as she went by her home chores, this time fetching water by the river, her fate was bound to take a turn. Oftentimes both young boys and girls were sent to fetch water every day. It was a habit for other village boys mostly to wait for girls and approach them as they went to the river. It is very common for children to spend so much more time at these places because they are either playing in the river or they are playing with each other. These games would take several hours and parents at one point would either send the older children to go follow up their younger ones, or else the story would be different if our mothers came by themselves. I can’t say the same about myself because for me growing up was straightforward and I don’t mean that I didn’t do chores but at least we had tapped water just behind our house so it was easy to fetch. I still feel as a last born, I did more than a fair share of my chores because my elder siblings forced me. This greatly affected my relationship with them. Today I avoid being in places with them.

Going back to our story, Pulakiseda on one of the evenings of December 1996, as she went to fetch water at the river, she was approached by one of the boys. Every day she was going to fetch water, this boy was there waiting for her. It was not long just about Christmas day, she accepted to be with him and she got pregnant on her first attempt. A few weeks past, she realized that she had missed her period. She went and talked to her sister in law who told her that it is normal sometimes girls will miss their periods. The second month came and the third nothing happened. It was at this time that she realized that she was actually pregnant. 

Pulakiseda went to the boy and told him about what was going on and he tried to deny the pregnancy. This is a classic move for most of the young boys and  a number of young adults here in Uganda. With all this she managed to keep her busy mother out of the picture until Pulakiseda was 7 month pregnant. At this point she was not able to hide it anymore because even during pregnancy, Pulakiseda continued to do all her chores every day. 

She carried the baby for about 9 months and after birth, they had to take the baby to the boys’ father. The boy’s fathers asked if the boy wanted to marry the girl because he wanted to give them a small piece of land and timber to start the house. It is unfortunate that this boy did not want to proceed with the relationship and arrangement because he was studying to become a teacher. He told the father that this marriage would ruin his dream. 

Immediately after Pulakiseda gave birth the father of the boy asked that they take home his grandson so they could take care of him. The boy “Rogers” was immediately taken to his fathers home after he was done nursing. Of course Pulakiseda’s mother was disappointed about this whole scenario but she had nothing to do but to support her daughter. Pulakiseda went back to her supposed normal life at home but her heart remained with the child all through. She would try on numerous occasions to find out how he was doing and according to her standards, he was not doing well on all levels. He was physically having issues with his posture and in terms of school he was not attending regularly. 

She managed to have her sister in law sneak the child from her father in law’s home and bring him back to Pulakiseda. He was taken back and Pulakiseda started from square one to feed and educate the boy. She took him from what she called “average school” to a better school where he was supposed to play catch up with the kids who had been ahead of him. Rogers managed to pick up and moved on with his fellow classmates to the next class. 

Meanwhile as this was happening Pulakiseda had reached the age of about 20yrs. She had managed to remain focused all her life after child birth in trying to put her life in order. Through her sister in law she met another man from the city “Kampala”. Growing up from the village in the past meant that you would have what they termed as “discipline” or “manners”. Most men from the city asked their friends and relatives to find them women from the village. The most surprising thing was that they did not need to have met the person and sometimes the best thing they have is knowing the girl’s name. 

On one afternoon, this gentleman along with Pulakiseda’s brother, her sister in law plus a friend who was a teacher. They came home for a small visit called “Kukyala” which in direct translation means visit. It is a tradition in Uganda and most of our local tribes that the man will be invited home to visit the fathers house. What is insane is that the father of the girl never talks to the boy directly so the boys’ uncles and the daughters auntie are the ones who speak. Everything that is spoken is extended to her father by his sister, the girl’s auntie locally known as “Ssenga”. 

At the end of this visit, usually as a sign of acceptance the man will leave a hankie with money in it. He will give this directly to the girl and this time, Pulakiseda was given 20,000/- Uganda shillings in a white hankie. A few days later Pulakiseda was taken by the two people who brought the man to the man’s home in the city. It did not take long until she got pregnant a few weeks later for their first child, a girl. When the girl was 2yrs, she yet again got pregnant with the second child. 

Pulakiseda’s husband was a motor vehicle mechanic. She moved in with him when he lived with his elder brother so they occupied a single roomed house for a while. He did not make enough money at the time so Pulakiseda was forced to open a vegetable stall as a way of increasing their income. She would go to the main market to buy tomatoes, onions and other vegetables and sell them to the community. She also bought sugarcane but this was too heavy hence she dropped this much earlier. She then turned to roasting maize and this sadly did not end well. One evening, her baby swallowed a maize seed and that was his last breath. She had put him down to sit because he was crying and she needed to get change for her customer. She rushed to the house and by time she came back, the child was on the ground. He had swallowed a maize seed and it had gone down his airway. He was gone by the time she reached the hospital. It was a sad moment for her because she had been struggling with her marriage. Her husband was seeing someone else. He started to not come home a few nights every week, saying that they had been working on a car along one of the highways and they had not finished. 

That morning of the broken car, he was called on the phone but he seemed to be in a calm place, definitely not a roadside. When they asked him where he was, he said he was on the road which he definitely was not. The next day he sent a bunch of “ugly” bananas as termed by Pulakiseda. She said they looked so bad and embarrassing. She called him and told him that he shouldn’t have sent these at all. This was the last time she ever saw him. 

At this point they had 4 children with this gentleman. He never called back and the only time they met was at the burial of his mother. Pulakiseda would occasionally send her son Rogers to visit his family during christmas and take them a few food items. He would stay there about a week but they would not even give him transport home. Until the boy one day decided that he won’t go back there again. Pulakiseda was so relieved because this saved her lots of money from buying the many food stuff she would buy. Meanwhile throughout this time, he would never send Pulakiseda any money. 

When he left Pulakiseda got money from some of her siblings to open up a shop in the market and that is how she started her life. She got a shop in the market and operated it for about 2yrs from 2014 to about 2016. She bought dried goods mostly like beans, rice, sugar, peas and other cereal grains. She made a lot of progress because her shop was located very strategically at the entrance of the market. This shop provided her meals on a daily basis and she would save up some to repay the loan. Unfortunately a few months later there was a road construction that caused her shop to be destroyed because it was in the road reserve. 

This was about the same time in 2017 when she first met ISEE Solutions because she needed to revamp her shop. She requested for a grinding machine to grind ground nuts which was a very hot product in her shop. Her goal was to buy the ground nuts and then grind them herself, this would reduce the cost of producing. This low cost of production would ensure she sells at a low price, lower than everyone else in the market.

In 2017, we as ISEE thought about broadening our area of service so we broke into Kawempe division. We went through an organization called HEFYU {Health Empowered Focus Youth Uganda}. They organized, distributed the forms and also gave us a place to meet the Mamas. We were pleased everything went well and as planned. The businesses varied from water tanks, chickens, grinding machines, restaurants, stationery shops and book making. It was such a diverse crowd and it was very interesting for us as an organization.

Pulakiseda applied for a grinding machine and a few days later she got her machine with a starting stock for ground nuts. The first weeks went well and she ground the 50kgs of ground nuts. Eventually it turned out that the machine was not as industrial as we had thought. The motor was a bit weaker than we thought so she had to cut down its productivity. The other challenge was that when her shop building was destroyed, the next shop she relocated to was poorly located and it affected her greatly and for many months she did not make enough money to sustain her business. At this point the grinding machine also broke so it was just getting worse for her. 

with her fridge on back of a boda

In late 2018, a shop at the entrance opened up for her when the owner closed shop. She hurried to the landlord and paid for it. This is one of the best decisions she made because from that time until the lockdown earlier in 2019. She managed to restock her shop, building her shop to a more favorable competitive place. All that she had lost in the previous shop, she got it in a few months. 

The lockdown hit in March 2019 and as if everything went back to square one. The good thing is that the shops remained silent and, whereas the sales dropped a bit, Pulakiseda was able to continue to work throughout this time. The numbers of people visiting the markets greatly reduced because public transport was not being allowed, so very many people were unable to go to the main market where Pulakiseda worked.

One of the things that Pulakiseda is very grateful for is the Christmas hamper for 2020. She said that she did not expect it at all. It caught her by surprise. The Christmas of 2020 was very difficult  for many of the Mama’s, most of the businesses had been struggling including Pulakiseda’s. Several Mama’s have mentioned this particular activity as one of their favorite moments because of how it happened, none of them expected it. For Pulakiseda it was a plus for her because we bought most of the Christmas supplies from her like cooking oil, posho, rice, beans and sugar. We believed that by supporting Pulakiseda and Angel by buying these food stuff, we would eventually help their businesses.

Fast forward through 2019 and 2020, we continued to visit her on numerous occasions speaking about a way forward on how we would be of service to her. She eventually looked around and realized no one had a fridge within the first 8 shops by hers. We filled in a request for a fridge. It obviously took a few months to go through the criterias, procedure and now she is a proud owner of a brand new 260 liters fridge. She is very excited about her fridge and we hope it can serve its purpose.

In her words she said… “I would like to encourage all women to work hard and not underlook their potential”. Pulakiseda was left with a baby just a few months in 2009 and she has managed to take care of him. He has now sat his S.4 final exams. This man left her with absolutely nothing at all, no food and no rent but she has managed to make it to this point in life. 

Her future goal like many other Mama’s is to continue working through the next 5-7yrs and buy her own plot of land to build a home for her retirement. She is 43yrs of age and has spent most of her last 20 yrs in the marketing selling in her shop. She has educated all her children through hard work and her hope is that all her children can complete their education. It was never easy but she made the sacrifice every day.

It is amazing that she is still working hard and dreaming everyday. I have seen a number of people reach at this level and feel they have made it. I feel so proud when I find Mamas like her continue to progress in their lives. She has not seen her separated husband for more than 7 years but she has never lacked.

Pulakiseda took the opportunity to thank all her sponsors who initially helped her get the grinding machine and those who have helped her get this fridge. She believes that this fridge will help propel her to her desired dream of retirement so she can leave the shop to her children to run.

Report by; 

Andrew Echel

Director of Programs, Uganda.

ISEE Solutions Society.

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