Gloria Kyakwera sits in her hut cleaning milk gourds. Despite the afternoon heat, it is cool enough inside for her to go about putting in order these ‘containers’ that hold a special place in one corner of almost every house in Kanoni, Ntungamo district.
Her two-year-old girl sits at her mother’s feet, barely making any sound as she makes baby attempts at dusting the gourds that her mother puts aside, with a piece of cloth.
Besides the muffled brushing sounds, everything is quiet. The calmness that Kyakwera exudes seems to rub off her into the rest of the neighbourhood. But for her and her household, the calm and quiet is a weapon of defence. She has learnt to be almost invisible, as a way of protecting her children and herself from her abusive husband.
She breaks into a wide smile to welcome us into the small hut. But when she opens her mouth in greeting, her voice comes out in hushed, almost inaudible tones. She knows better than to raise her voice despite her excitement, lest the people that have subjected her to ceaseless suffering hear and steal this moment of happiness.
Kyakwera’s brow knots and she leans forward to delve into the harrowing story of her married life.
“When I got married in this family my co-wife had separated from my husband. She returned when I had had my first two children, and that is when my troubles begun. My husband would beat me with his herding-stick, telling me he had married me to keep him company while his first wife was away. He told me to go back to my family, but I couldn’t leave my children without a mother,” she narrates.
The stick she was beaten with should have been herding the cows from which her and her children would get milk to drink, but her husband made it clear that his cows and land were off limits for her. One day she was beaten into unconsciousness, and her husband disappeared from the village. It was not until she had recovered from her bruises that he resurfaced.
His return spelt more doom. Kyakwera says that her husband would come to her house at night and demand that she submits to him and yet threaten her with death in the event that she got pregnant. But the inevitable happened, and was the source of contention. He accused her of promiscuity.
She recalls, “One day he came with policemen in a car at about 1 am. The child in question was less than a month old. They forced me out of bed, bundled me and forced me into the car and drove me to my family home, which is about 200 kms away from here. When they came close to home they just dropped me by the roadside, and left.”
When her child was about five months old, Kyakwera returned to her marital home, worried for the two young children she had left behind. She also made up her mind to fight for them. Her visits to local officials to report her husband for domestic violence and child neglect were in vain.
With barely any food to feed three children and the last pieces of clothes of their backs, Kyakwera made it to the district court in Ntungamo town, about 30kms from her village, where neither she nor the husband could provide evidence to prove the child’s paternity. Her last wave of hope went with the fruitless court battle.