PATRICIA SSEWUNGU’s 35 years of life are full of family betrayals, neglect, sexual abuse, deportation, denied deportation and drugs.
It is a journey that has taken her from Masaka to Kampala with just Shs 1,000; seen her board a plane from Uganda to London for no reason or to anyone in particular.
Frank Kisakye sat Ssewungu down for an extensive interview at Kampala Serena hotel, also read her book A piece of Cake: My Story and brings you her incredible story.
Born to middle-class and religious parents, Ssewungu’s life was pre-set for a fairy-tale-defined destiny. Or so, everyone thought.
“I want to tell my story and let people know that every mistake you make will haunt you sooner or later. I am being haunted by my past but it has not held me back because of my strong character. But not everyone has this [strong] character,” she says. “Some of my friends ran mad due to use of drugs. Look at our so-called socialites, they are being haunted by their past. That is why they pose nude, engage in fights with whomever on social media, and leak their own sex tapes.”
Conceived in Kalungu, Masaka, travelling to Rome when still in her mother’s womb at just eight months and born in Hoima, Ssewungu’s nomadic journey was perhaps a script in the offing. Her father, Augustine Sehungu (misspelt and later adopted as Ssewungu), a Rwandese by birth, was a pioneer importer of Mercedes Benz vehicles and spare parts in Masaka.
So rich he was that he employed three maids to look after his family and was well within the financial means to afford a pilgrimage to Rome with his pregnant wife.
While in Rome, a new friend, Mrs Abwoli from Hoima, invited the couple to visit her. It is here that Namugenyi Magdalene Atenyi (misspelt, also as Atyeni) was born, later to be renamed Patricia Namaganda Atyeni.
“Dad being a very busy person who was not always at home,” she writes in her book, “The desire to make a legacy for us meant that he would have to toil for many hours 24/7. Whereas this was a welcome gesture on one hand, it created a gap between us the kids and him as he had very limited time for us.”
Only if he knew that the legacy was soon to crumble after the successful liberation war in 1979! The family dropped from the middle-class to an impoverished one when Tanzanian liberators confiscated the last vehicle consignment ordered and their Buddu Ssanyu petrol station was bombed to ashes.
But as her father’s legacy crumbled, Ssewungu was starting to make her own name in Masaka. A good debater, excellent in class, she and her sister Carol Ssewungu were offered half-bursaries at Bwanda Girls primary school. She had been a standout debater despite her school, Immaculate primary school, losing the contest to Bwanda.
She was also a good dancer inspired by her brother, current Kalungu West MP, Joseph Ssewungu, aka ‘King Dancer’. She was made the assistant music leader at her new school and head of Masaka Girl Guides Movement.
She was a school ‘celebrity’ until her own family subconsciously conspired to thwart that status. One day, her elder sister Carol playfully hit her on the head. She retaliated by flapping her arms at her like a butterfly. Carol innocently reported this to the school authorities as “a sexual gesture” made at her.
The school nuns were incensed – summoning her father to discipline his daughter on the general assembly. And disciplining he did, whipping her 100 strokes.
The ‘celebrity’ had been humiliated, embarrassed and betrayed by family and school. Her ego was flattened, but more so, the almost non-existent father-daughter relationship deadened even further. And naturally, of course, with Carol who had caused the entire malevolence.
DEFILED, DEFILED, DEFILED…
Her cousin Vincent Mukisa continuously defiled her from when she was just six until when she was 13. Not her mom or dad ever believed her. Not even Mukisa’s mother, Aunt Molly. Only the housemaid gave her an earful, she says. The monster in her had been dared. Moreover, frustrations were creeping in for everyone; the once-financially-stable family was now struggling.
These struggles, however, did not deter Ssewungu from excelling in Primary Leaving Exams (PLE), scoring aggregate 5 close to the best possible of 4. She got admitted at Kalungu Girls secondary school but got expelled in senior three after being falsely accused of bullying, despite having been a victim of the vice for so long herself.
By then, she, and friends, had founded Villa Maria Students Association (Visa) to nurture dancing and singing talents with businessman Frank Gashumba as the patron.
After the expulsion from Kalungu, she joined Bukulula secondary school. On her way back from a pilgrimage to Birinzi, Ssewungu was again defiled: this time by fellow village mate Godfrey Kasaato, who had offered her a ride back to school.
Like before, her expected guardians, this time the school matron, did not believe her. She was, instead, thoroughly caned for falsely accusing and blaming strangers.
The ‘bad girl’ monster had finally garnered enough reasons and strength to be let out. Now drinking and escaping at will, it wasn’t long before she got in trouble with school authorities. She was subsequently suspended when she and colleagues went to Kasasa secondary school to dance. It would have been expulsion if it were not for the case that she was in senior four and about to do national exams.
A few days later, there was a violent strike at her school for which she was falsely accused of masterminding. Asked to bring a parent, she was not about to be walloped 100 canes again. So, she came with a ‘bogus’ parent who was roundly rejected by the school authorities since her family was well-known.
Whoever had participated in the strike was to be caned first before getting their O-level results. In fact, the headmaster, she was told, was itching to land his hands on her. Keep the results if you want, she told them, but she was not about to be caned for a crime she did not commit.
With the help of her sister Nassaazi, she lied that the examinations body, Uneb, had withheld her results. Her father did not buy the lie but her mother helped her get admitted at Nkozi secondary school to sit senior four again.
It was at this point that her mother decreed that from then on, her daughter was to be called Patricia Namaganda Atyeni. She blamed the other name Magdalene Namugenyi for her daughter’s misfortunes.
When her dad decided to cut her academic journey for quicker financial returns and enrol her for a nursing course, Ssewungu decided to run away from home, leaving her parents a note saying:
“Dear mom and dad, I, your beloved daughter Atyeni, writing this from the bottom of my heart, with utmost sincerity, without being bribed or intimidated, I regret to inform you or rather am happy to inform you, that having carefully analysed the prevailing situation, I have come to believe to the best of my knowledge that am tired of village life. I have gone to Kampala and will only return when am rich. Am sorry but there is no other way out of this impasse. God bless you.”
With just Shs 1,000 and a kaveera containing a few clothes, she set off to Kampala, aboard a matooke truck. She had been to Kampala before but only to the National Theatre with her school for drama performances.
Her friend, Aeron Nakamya, had told her so many stories about the city, Club Silk and Ange Noir discotheque. Overwhelmed by the city’s development and rural-to-urban excitement still so fresh, she was robbed of her only belongings upon reaching the taxi park. The wild wail made attracted sympathy from onlookers whom she told her transport to Mbarara had been stolen. Shs 5,000 was immediately fundraised for her.
How was she to find her old friend Aeron yet she did not have a phone or know where she was staying? Well, she somehow made it to Club Silk. With her rare dance moves, among those attracted to the villager’s dancing was Nakamya.
Soon they formed the ‘detoothers’ trio of Deborah, Atyeni and Nakamya. ‘Detoothing’ became a career, hopping from club to club, bar to bar until when Deborah’s ‘lover’ Afande Musinguzi got concerned about their reckless behaviour, offering to take them back to school.
Ssewungu enrolled at Kampala students centre, Makerere, for A-level. Afande rented for them a room in Nateete, and later in Nsambya. Balancing school and ‘detoothing’ was now becoming hard. The gang had now grown to 12 – all staying in one single room.
BIRTH OF MONICA, JOSE CHAMELEONE THE RESCUER
In two years of ‘detoothing’, Ssewungu had managed to stay clear of pregnancies until she met Jacob, a former friend from Kasasa secondary school. On learning that Ssewungu was pregnant, Jacob and his mother told her village and uptown families.
She decided to abort, first in Kawempe; but on seeing a foetus of about seven months being pulled out of another girl, she sought for the services of another ‘attendant’ in Masaka, several weeks later.
The ‘attendant’ was rudimentary as they come; inserting and turning cassava stems into her privates. The abortion was to take seven days but due to the extreme pain, on the fourth day, she ran away, deciding to keep the pregnancy. After giving birth to Monica (now 18 years), Ssewungu got a job as a house help at an inter-racial couple, earning Shs 30,000 a month.
The black wife, her three-year-old son and white husband were all abusive. When she started rejecting her boss’ sexual advances, she got dismissed after just two months. Pondering her next move and moving aimlessly from Nsambya towards the American embassy, she met Lillian, a student and then singer Jose Chameleone’s girlfriend who offered her accommodation at her Wonderful Rivers hostel. She soon got dismissed after getting into a fight with Lillian’s friend Gemma.
She was on the move again with her baby. Without even realising it, she was moving in the middle of the road. Chameleone and his brothers Ham, Daudi and Henry, who were driving to a dance club, stopped to find out why she was moving with a baby when it was raining at night.
To be continued.
Most of the names in the story have been changed to protect people’s identities.