Unlike many acid victims, Maimoona Namakula’s face is clear without a single scar. However, when she turns her back, it is filled with unsightly scars.
The 34-year-old mother of four looks miserable and is afraid of strangers. When I ask what happened to her, she breaks down and cries for close to 30 minutes. She later opens up about her ordeal.
How it all began
“In my Senior Four vacation, my friends lured me to a nightclub. Later in the night, I went to the ladies room and as I was coming back, I met a bouncer who held my hand tightly and told me that I was going to pay for all his money that I had eaten.
At first, I was confused, I tried to explain to the man that I had never met him but he was not giving me a chance to explain. He then grabbed me and took me to a colleague of his and he told him not to let go of me. I do not recall what followed but when I regained my senses; I was in a room with both my hands and lips tied. The man who was in the room told me that that was my new home and I was not supposed to get out of the room if I still needed my life.”
Forced into marriage
Namakula explains that she was locked up in a room for close to four months with a man whom she later came to know as Fredrick Ssekabira. She says Ssekabira raped her on a daily basis until she got pregnant and was left with no option but to accept him as her husband.
“When I noticed that I was pregnant, I told the man and he gave me two options; to go back to my parents or to move in with him. I feared going back home because I had just disappeared without notice and since I had no mother in that home, I knew no one would believe my story. That is how I started living with Ssekabira.”
Coping with family responsibility
Namakula, who is now under the care of the organisation End Acid Violence Uganda, was 16 years old then and she had hairdressing skills which she concentrated on and perfected. She did this because she noticed that her husband was earning little and they needed to do something which would sustain them and the children.
“I got a job at Gazaland (mall) working in a hair salon and I was earning enough money to sustain us. My husband was only earning Shs200,000 and he asked me to help him raise money to process the necessary documents that could enable him work outside Uganda. I gave him the money and he left. Meanwhile I stayed at home with the children and continued looking after the family as I had always done. Ssekabira would send money and we managed to build a home in Zana. We put up some small rental units. Life was moving on normally and with the help of Ssekabira, I opened my own salon at Galilaya (mall). I was earning good money and I bought myself a small car, a Toyota Raum.”
Nasty turn of events
However, Namakula says her husband’s contract ended and he returned to Uganda. He refused to look for another job but opted to stay home. That is when his character worsened. She explains that he would never contribute anything at home and he would yell at her each time she returned from work.
“I did not know why he was yelling at me, but somehow, the two of us were always involved in a quarrel. We started sleeping in separate beds and he showed me that he was not bothered. I did not mind his character and instead continued with my roles.
When I bought more building material to complete our rental units, he accused me of plotting to take over his house. He said I was a thief and that I was scheming for his property. In the course of that disagreement, he was called for another contract outside Uganda and he left home again.
The acid attack
Shortly after he had left, I went to a neighbour’s shop to buy snacks. I noticed that the shopkeeper was moving up and down as if she was in a hurry. I waited patiently for her to come and serve me.
On her way back, I recall that she was carrying a Nomi bucket, which she opened slowly and poured a certain substance on me. I screamed at the top of my voice and fell face- down on the floor. She then poured more of the substance on my back.
Some people gathered in her shop and started beating her up but she told them that I was her co-wife and had come to attack her with a knife. It was in that moment that I learnt I had a co-wife living in my neighbourhood.”
Maimed and stranded
Namakula says she later found herself in hospital lying in pain with wounds all over her back; she had no one except her children by her bedside.
Her co-wife, Marium Sendi, an elderly woman in her 50s had been arrested by well-wishers but she managed to get out on cash bail of Shs4m.
“I was hospitalised for eight months; from April 2016 till the end of the year; my children stopped schooling and I sold my car and salon to cater for my treatment. I was left with nothing,” she laments.