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the invisible people (standard:Editorials, 2095 words)
Author: DAVID TUMUSIIMEAdded: Apr 22 2004Views/Reads: 2167/1135Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
personal reactions to beggars on kampala's streets. are beggars all over the world the same?
 



THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE David Tumusiime 

The morning traffic round Clock Tower, the deadly whizzing of taxis on
any road between seven and nine in the evening, the prostitutes who 
line William and Luwum Streets after 10 pm are a part of Kampala that 
one wishes were not part of the life but are. They are the price we pay 
for living in a city and once you are accustomed to their presence, it 
soon feels like they are not even there. Only an unpleasant jolt will 
rudely remind you they have not gone away. Yet in all the years of 
living in Kampala, there is one feature time has failed to immure me 
from: the beggars on our streets. 

I'm sure I'm not the only one disturbed because I have I have heard many
persons speak more than once of “this nuisance.” In fact I have a 
notion that every Kampala resident, like I, is haunted by certain 
beggars on our many streets who represent to each person the whole 
tribe of these homeless people who sleep on the streets. 

Obbo Sam Jude recently discovered his own spectre that represents for
him all this tribe. He had observed, with much disgust in his voice, 
that K.C.C. (Kampala City Council) was again not doing it job worse 
than usual. He had noticed, he said, an increase in the number of 
beggars on the street. Their numbers were most alarming on Entebbe Road 
just before Shoprite. They were, he supposed, either Karimojong or 
Sudanic or some tribe from up there. Anyway, it was just not safe 
anymore to walk down Entebbe Road since their arrival. 

He was wrong. They have been there for several years. He only noticed
them because the building construction going on has forced them to move 
further down the roadside from where they had been before. But it is 
impossible to simply label them beggars. Sure, there are barely clothed 
babies and children with runny noses and distended stomachs who 
sometimes hold out knobbly hands to receive coins or other offerings.   
The tentlike structures they inhabit down in Goodshed near Goodshed 
Lorry Park made of the skimpiest looking black or dirty white polythene 
seem hardly like they can keep out the cold or rain. The stench around 
the tents they live in from black wastewater with solid floating 
globules is stomach churning. But still I would hardly call them 
beggars. 

If there are a people that can be called invisible, they are it. Their
whole demeanour is calculated to call the least attention to 
themselves. The adults for one do not beg.  They are engaged in making 
small household necessities with a real art for sale like wire 
rattraps, the famous three legged stools or local herbal medicines for 
common diseases. I have seen them with my own eyes gang up and force a 
petty thief who had snatched a purse from a lady just in front of them 
to return the purse to the disbelieving young woman. The women wear the 
most beautifully patterned kangas I'm told actually tell the life story 
of the wearer with an enviable naturalness. 

But I can understand a bit my friend's fear of them. In spite of their
supposed low status, they do not look like beggars at all. It maybe 
because of the way they hold themselves. They stand their shoulders 
spread out, back straight, and if you look at them look back at you 
with a question instead of a plea and in spite of their situation 
radiate an unquestionable dignity and an aloof pride you can only 
possess if you are sure who you are. 

I understand because there is a beggar on the furthest extreme of
Kampala Road just before it becomes Jinja Road who sits near Petro fuel 
station I'm afraid of. There's no rational reason why I should be 
afraid of him. He is the beggar and I'm the self-sustaining citizen 
after all. Yet I'm. 

He sits on the hard cement pavement bare-chested, his legs folded under
him sometimes like a Swami, his abnormally large genitals hanging out 
of his worn brown trouser, his held out hand accompanied by his 
plaintive appeal you give him something, anything. 

He is a man in nearly all senses of that word and has no physical
deformities as far as I have been able to see. His body is what is can 
be called wiry or slender, he has high cheekbones, matted dusty brown 
hair and the surprising Van Dyke beard on his pointed chin gives his 
not quite emaciated bony face a mocking aristocratic air. Is he the 


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