10 years married to a mortuary worker

Agnes Nakibuuka serves her husband Grace Joseph Katumba with a glass of juice. She says her husband’s job is like any other and sometimes she helps him out with dressing the bodies, especially those that require a lot of work. PHOTOS BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

Grace Joseph Katumba worked as a mortician for 30 years and for 10 years, Agnes Nakibuuka is the shoulder that he has been leaning on. Christine Katende hunted down the recently-retired pathology assistant and his wife at their home in Semutto-Mukidondo Village, Luweero District, and Agnes shared with us what it means to be married to this man.

How long have you been married?
We have been married for 10 years, although I had someone before, who left me for another man.

How did you meet Agnes?
(Laughs) It was at a friend’s silver jubilee marriage celebration in Matugga. It was fortunate that she allowed to visit me at the end of the conversation.

On meeting, did she inquire about the kind of job you had?
She didn’t and actually didn’t have a clue on what I do for a living. We only enjoyed the conversation and the food that was served at the party.

When did she get to know about your kind of work?
I once invited her at my workplace. I had just joined Rubaga Hospital from Mulago hospital in 2001.

What was her reaction?
Nothing. She didn’t react in any way. I think it was okay with her because I even showed her where the dead bodies are kept but she wasn’t frightened. She is a strong woman.

How do you cope with family and work?
I cope well with everything. Now that I am retired, I spend more time with my children and help my wife in the garden. I only leave home when necessary. I even go as far as Entebbe, no matter the time. My services are readily available.

Isn’t she scared of you sometimes given the fact that you touch dead bodies all the time?
Never. Even when I get hold of a surgical blade, she never alarms. She is okay with it and she is used now. She has never had a nightmare concerning my kind of work.

What about you, don’t you get nightmares?
I have never gotten any kind of nightmare for the period I have been in the field. I am used, nothing can scare me and I think the deceased are happy, given the kind of treatment I give them.

What did it feel like at first?
It was horrible. It took me one-and-a-half years to get used. It was so scary; I could not imagine myself cutting someone’s head or a dead woman’s belly to get out a baby. I at one time started imagining a dead body holding my hands in the process. That alone scared me for some time, although I later got accustomed.

How did you become a mortician and what exactly do you do?
I started as a clinical officer but after realising how much money pathologists earn, I decided to pursue a three-year-course in pathology at the medical school in Mulago after which I replaced a deceased employee in the department. I do postmortem, disinfect the bodies, perfume and also make them up, depending on the client’s desires. There are people who want their deceased to look nice in the coffin. So I positively respond to my client’s call.

How long have you done this job?
30 years.

So how many children do you have?
I have so many children, some are deceased. But I think they are 12.

Do you share the money you earn with your wife?
Yes. I am doing an expensive job. I can attend to three cases a day, charging between Shs150,000- Shs200,000. I receive calls from different hospitals and individuals. Sometimes I go with my wife to give a hand. Like in cases where there is no power, she helps hold a big torch for me.

Do you pray so that demons don’t come after you?
Yes, I do pray over it every day because I wouldn’t want to see dead people’s faces later. I also ask God to guide me all through.
But how long did it take you to get used to these dead bodies?
About a year and a half.

Do people visit your home?
Yes, they have no problem with it. I mean this is just a job like any other kind of work. I leave the dead bodies’ business where I work. Some even used to visit me at the hospital.

Do your children know?
Yes, but only the grown ups. But even those didn’t get to know about it when they were young, it was later after they finished school. They only knew me as a doctor, period. I didn’t sit them down because I never wanted to scare them. For grown ups, it came up in the course of conversations. They got used and like it because it’s from that job that I got their school fees.

You talked of having two wives, how effective do you meet their needs?
I no longer. I just have two homes with one wife. The woman in Bamunanika, Bombo road is just a mother of my children. We no longer have any love connection. So I only go to see my children.

Have they ever quarrelled or fought over you?
No; apart from the one I told you about who left me then. These ones have always been okay.

What do you have to say about women who undermine men who do jobs of your kind?
They should instead focus on the love they have and help each other grow. Office men are useless and are womanisers. That’s why I love my wife, she sometimes accompanies me and on our way back, we stop for one or two [beers], then proceed home. I am always with her. I earn a lot more than an office man who works 12 hours for Shs500,000, which I can earn in one or two hours.

What kind of challenges do you normally encounter?
It’s hard to inject the disinfectant chemical in the fat dead people’s blood vessels, they are too hidden.