By Andrew Masinde
By 5.00am local time on a chilly Friday morning, I am already stationed at Maria Nyirabakonze’s home in Kikungwe village, Bukoto sub county in Masaka district.
Athough it is still dark, before a cock crows, she is already up ready to go to the garden.
But before she enters her incomplete kitchen to pick a hoe, she first feeds the chicken housed in another room on maize grain; she says there is no one who will feed them since her five grandchildren are still young and cannot remember the chicken have to feed.
“Make sure you wash your face when you wake up before eating the left over potatoes from last night, and share equally with the children,” she tells the eldest grandchild who also appears mentally unstable.
You would think there is no other adult in the house. As we set off, a man’s voice calls from the house: “Do not leave this one behind she will disturb me. Follow your grandmother to the garden,” he chases the two-year-old grandchild to follow the grandmother in a growling voice.
The two-year-old girl, donning a blue stained dress, dashes out crying, poor Nyirabakonze taps her on the back.
“Keep quiet lest I will not carry you on the back,” she says as she wipes the girl’s tears. She wraps her on the back with a dirty grey wrapper, after she heads to the garden.
“You are really serious with your journalism; you had to come on this chilly morning, you are determined,” she says as we proceed.
She narrates that her life has not been a bed of roses. She and the family came from Rwanda in 2007 in search of employment.
“My husband got a school where he was teaching; however, it was short lived; after, life became hell. Even the small house we were staying got dilapidated and we did not have money to buy materials to refurbish it. We abandoned the home,” she says.
“I was left all alone with the children. I could work on people’s farms for food and money for upkeep, thank God we survived,” she adds.
The talk is cut short after reaching the garden; it is about 2km from the home.
“The soils are soft when it rains that is why I want to finish weeding these beans in time,” she says. She had already cleared half of it.
I ask to give a hand; “It is not easy especially for people who stay in town,” she says. However, after insisting she hands me the spare hoe.
After weeding for two hours, I give up and decide to sit under the tree to play with the kid. “You see I told you it is not easy as you thought. My friend, this is how we get food that you eat,” she says.
“I do this every day; sometimes I miss church when it is weeding period. It is only when crops are getting spoilt that my husband comes to give a hand,” she explains.
At 9.00am, she drops the hoe to give the young girl potatoes and a one-litre bottle of water that she had carried from home.
Afterwards she proceeds weeding uninterrupted till 12.00pm when I request that we go back home.
She stops weeding and heads to the cassava garden.
“The potatoes I got last evening got finished so I have to get some roots for lunch,” she says.
After picking what is enough she puts it in the sack, straps the girl on her back and we head home.
As we walk home, we resume with our morning talk. I was curious about what happened after the husband leaving.
She says after four years of suffering, some well-wishers from World Vision offered a helping hand.
“They built a house, and when my husband heard about it, he came back. Since he is the father of my children, I accepted him back, friends gave supported us and we wedded,” she says.
It was not long before we reached home; the husband had already gone on his duties in the trading centre.
“He is a man; you do not expect him to do house work. It is a woman’s job that is why I do not know what fun is, all day I am working,” she says.
Before she cleans up, she picks a blue dish with water, sprinkles all over the dusty compound, and with a broom made of dried long shrubs, sweeps it to neatness.
After she picks the cassava from the sack and peals, washes, and wraps it in the banana leaves.
She then scraps the saucepan with ash from the fire place; however, it is only the inside of the saucepan that she cleans.
The outside is stained with soot that cannot go off, after she puts the wrapped cassava in the pan.
She then lights a fire in the incomplete brick house that is covered with half piece of iron sheets and white polythene bags, and places the food on the fire.
She then takes potato vines and water to the black pig tethered to a tree. She feeds the chicken more maize grain and water. After she picks the dirty plates, sits on the veranda and washes them.
In the process the grandchildren join her. Here she starts a conversation with them inquiring how they slept, and whether their elder brother gave them potatoes in the morning.
After she sweeps the house and puts it to order. She puts the thin mattresses out in the sun; the grandchildren had wetted them at night.
At 3.00pm, she serves the food. It is the first meal she is eating after working close to 10 hours.
After having lunch, she picks a mat to take a rest under the tree. Still the husband has not returned; she waits for the evening to prepare supper.
That is the typical day for Nyirabakonze: daily work and she is not helped by the husband, year in year out, and like her, many rural women are faced with similar challenges as their work goes unappreciated or unpaid.