Twins Elizabeth Babirye and Priscilla Catherine Nakato on their 90th birthday. PHOTOS/ISAAC KASAMANI.


Mother died in labour, her twins became midwives for decades

What you need to know:

  • Making their 90th birthday. When Deborah Namuddu was delivered of Elizabeth Babirye and Priscilla Catherine Nakato, she bled to death.
  • The twins have lived to see their 90th birthday, writes Abdul-Nasser Ssemugabi.

Deborah Namuddu brought a pair of lives but lost hers instantly. Priscilla Catherine Nakato and Elizabeth Babirye have lived to even see great grandchildren.

Born in Nakawungu, Kyaggwe in 1933, their mother immediately bled to death. Bereft on their first day on earth, moreover in a remote village, the twins’ life looked bleak. But, Heaven had a rescue mission.

“A British couple took us to Sanyu Babies Home (in Kampala), until we were three years old,” Nakato remembers.

When they were six, their father also died. That is when they joined kindergarten in Mengo, thanks to the British couple.

From there, they joined Buloba Boarding Primary School from Primary One to Six, spending holidays at Prince Sebastian Kiboneka’s foster home.

After Primary Six, the twins were excited about joining Junior School, today’s equivalent of lower secondary school. But their excitement was short-lived because their benefactors could not afford the tuition.

“We were disappointed, but we had no choice,” Nakato recounts.

All was not lost. They joined Mengo Nurses’ Training School. Nakato loved midwifery, Babirye loved nursing. But after three-month trials, they were told to start with nursing and do midwifery later.

Pregnancy disrupted Babirye, though she later graduated. But Nakato joined Mengo Hospital immediately after graduation. A year later, she worked at Mulago hospital, then Jinja and Tororo hospitals and Dabani Health Centre. Plus, Mbale Hospital, Kamuge and Budaka health centres.

In 1964, Nakato was among the 20 health workers who trained in childcare in Mbarara, but the only one who had stopped in Primary School. 

“My English was the poorest and wondered how I could cope. But I asked God to guide me,” Nakato says.

Upon completion the chief medical officer announced her the best. 
“I could not believe it.”

Work had separated the twins. Transport and communication were infrequent. “When Babirye fell sick I became restless until we met,” Nakato recalls. “She was about 15 miles away and I did not have enough money. We used to get just Shs45 a month. I walked and begged cyclists for lifts.  One dropped me off somewhere, I walked until I found another until I reachedmy destination. Ours is a long story of lessons.”

Mother vs nomadic midwife
“At first, I was very poor. We mostly ate cassava and sometimes slept on the floor,” Nakato says of the days she earned Shs45 a month.

“My firstborn, Moris, was taken by his father when he was just four years old. But I moved with the rest of my children wherever I was transferred.

The twins pose with some of their family members at their 90th birthday celebrations. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI.

Esther Joan Kasamani, Nakato’s second-born, briefly lived with her aunt but soon reunited with her mother, whom she describes as very lovely and caring. 

“Mum worked in several places and she was as committed to her job as she was to her children,” Kasamani  says.

“Even when she was busy, she first prepared our meals. And we lived in hospital quarters, so she always kept an eye on us.”

Nakato served in health centres such as  Bwizibwera, Ibanda, Kitagata, and Kilembe. In her entire career, she says, she never lost a mother or a baby in labour.

Such perfection and tenderness, wrapped in passion made Nakato every mother’s darling.
“In Kabwohe, all women preferred mum to attend to them. Even when she was off-duty, they would call her,” Kasamani remembers.

That did not please Nakato’s co-midwife, who reportedly lost many mothers and babies she handled. 

“She got mad and caused a lot of chaos until she was transferred.”

When Nakato trained nurses at the State Lodge, Entebbe, she had two children: one nine months old. She also adopted a four-month old who was related to her co-worker, whom she raised until high school.

But Nakato’s firstborn Bishop Harry Moris Bukenya, popularly called Moris, started living with her when he was about 30, having been raised by a stepmother and his father, who was a manager of British American Tobacco in Budaka.

“Mum was a very hardworking, excellent nurse and midwife wherever she worked,” Moris says.

Before working at Mengo Nursing Home, Nakato was an assistant health visitor in KCC, visiting homes and assessing their health needs, especially baby and child-related care and advising them accordingly.

“I share her sense of humour, love for people and hard-work,” Moris said.

Surviving war
Nakato had just had her secondborn Kasamani when the army, on Milton Obote’s orders, raided Kabaka Muteesa’s palace in 1966. Nakato was visiting her sister in-law in Nairobi.
When Amin toppled Obote in 1971, Nakato was living in the now defunct Naguru Estates. Moris lived with his uncle in Naguru-Katale but had come to check on his mother.

“I, my neighbour and our children locked ourselves in a room and prayed amid the gunfire until we finally heard that Amin had overthrown Obote,” Nakato recalls.  

She is not sure whether she was in Kilembe when Amin was overthrown in 1979. However, she remembers soldiers were told not to disturb health facilities. “Maybe that is why we were not affected much even during Museveni’s war.”

Members of the Military Commission (left to right): Zed Maruru, Yoweri Museveni, Paulo Muwanga, Tito Okello and David Oyite Ojok, who overthrew President Binaisa in May 1980. 

When Museveni’s NRA ousted Tito Okello in 1986, Nakato was in Naguru. 
“We walked to a ravaged Kampala, things had been destroyed but we were happy the war had finally ended.”

Fond Nairobi memories
“I was six years old but Jjajja Nakato carried me like a baby,” Val—Kasamani’s fourth born—remembers. In 1988, the first time Nakato visited Nairobi, since her daughter Kasamani moved with her husband to Kenya.

“Even now that  I am heavily pregnant, she insists  on sitting me on her lap, but I refuse because  I am too heavy for her,” Val says. “To her, we are babies forever.”
Isaac Kasamani, a grandson, can never forget Jjajja’s hugs. 

“When she came to Nairobi, she carried me on her back even though I was nine years old. Her hugs are more passionate. Even today, when she hugs you feel her firm grip.”

“When Jjajja came to Nairobi, it was the first time I saw her when I was old enough,” says Patricia, Kasamani’s first-born.

“When dad was home, Jjajja could speak to us when she was in the kitchen. We could call her Jjajja and she joins us. Even our dad called her Mama jangu. Being half-Kenyan, we did not know that in her culture, she could not stay in the same room with a son-in-law. 

“But when dad was away, oh my God, we would enjoy, play and dance with Jjajja. She taught us how to dance Twist.

Patricia also admires her grandmother’s memory. 

“When she was abroad, she asked for my prayer request. Many years later, when we picked her from the airport [in 2012] she hugged me and whispered into my ear: I still remember your prayer and I will never stop praying with you until I see it happen.”

Relatives and friends join twins Elizabeth Babirye and Priscilla Catherine Nakato to cut cake on their 90th birthday. PHOTOS/ISAAC KASAMANI.

Even on their birthday, recently, Nakato told Patricia: “I want to see you, I am still praying with you.” 

She is fun, Patricia says, and when you tell her a secret, she will keep it safe.

Born Catholics, raised as Protestants, the twins became Pentecostals like their son Moris.
On January 7, 1990, Nakato visited Babirye’s daughter in London for a month, then another niece in Heidelberg, Germany for a month, lived in Boston for three months, before settling in Syracuse, New York until 2012.

“Whenever I tried to tell my mother to return home, she told me: I am still on God’s mission,” Moris says at his Eden Revival Church in Wandegeya. “How could I stop a person on God’s mission?”

In Boston, Nakato prayed for her niece who had many academic credentials but was jobless. 

“In two days, she got a job. Later I got a dream from God, calling me to serve Him.”
Nakato trained in home health aid before catering for the elderly in nursing homes. She also preached the gospel to strangers in homes, grocery stores, etc. One day she found a couple. The woman told her that her husband was deaf.

“I prayed for them. Much later, when I had even forgotten about them, they brought me gifts thanking me for the prayer that healed the man.”

But, “It was my son Moris who persuaded me from the 1980s until I became Born-Again,” Nakato said in her speech.

Contrasting tastes
Rita cannot tell her twin grandmothers apart. She only met Nakato when she returned from the US in 2012. But she knows her as a very loving person, with an infectious presence, a sentiment Judith shares.

The twins share a profession, faith, height, size and some facial features. For their 90th birthday celebrations, they wore identical pink dresses, earrings and white sneakers. But their tastes differ. Nakato prefers rice, beans, greens and katunkuma (bitter berries). 

“I prefer chicken to beef, but I eat beef occasionally,” Nakato says.  

“I usually take bananas with hot water. Generally, fruits such as apples, jackfruits and pawpaw give me life, though they are expensive.”
Babirye loves milk and bread. 
“Without margarine, she will not take it,” says her daughter Joyce Buko, who stays with her in Bamunanika, Luweero.

She does not have supper or eat a particular food twice consecutively.
She likes sugarcane, bananas and other fruits. And nakati is the only vegetable she likes. She dislikes bitter stuff.

At the luncheon, Nakato washed down her meal with Mirinda Fruity, Babirye chose Fanta Orange.

When a little boy and girl sang and danced along a gospel song, Nakato clapped, smiled and moved her head in rhythm. Babirye stared on, enjoying a chicken drumstick.

When I met Babirye in church, she shook my hand and smiled, as if we had met before. “She is very friendly and loves being loved,” Joyce says. 
“Every morning, she wears her makeup and a good dress, as if she is going somewhere. She asks: Joyce, am I smart?”

At church, the twins wore black wigs with floral accessories. On another day, Babirye dyes her grey hair. Sometimes she wants to have it plaited. She dislikes being called old.

Nakato lives with her son Moris in Kanyanya, Kawempe Division and walks to markets nearby preaching the gospel. But Babirye dreads exercising, which Joyce says has compromised her health. She has joint pain, regularly feels feverish and her memory is fading. Nakato moves without support while Babirye uses a quad cane.

“It’s a special feeling that our mother did not see us even for a day but we have lived to see great grandchildren. We cannot thank God enough,” Nakato says. She wishes to live until 100.

Dream that never was
Babirye gave birth to two children. Joyce, 70, the oldest is the Central region representative on the National Council for Older Persons. Olivia Nansikombi passed on. Nakato has five.

Moris, 65, the oldest is an evangelist. The family comprises journalists, educators, actors, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

“It’s a special feeling that our mother did not see us even for a day but we have lived to see great grandchildren. We cannot thank God enough,” Nakato says. She wishes to live until 100.

“But, we also thank God for this talent of saving mothers and babies. In fact, I wanted to die a midwife. But I cannot because we were trained in a different generation.”

The great- grandchildren and friends enjoy a meal on the birthday of their 90-year-old twin grandmothers.

Nakato implores her descendants to put God first and read the Bible often.

“We have different talents, but before pursuing yours, ask God to help you make the right choice.  And do not stop praying, sometimes God tests our patience. There are things He gave me when I least expected.”