“I parted with my family in 1987 when I was three years old,” Rehema Nassejje, now a housewife sadly recalls. The 33- year-old mother of four still wonders where her biological parents have been since she disappeared from home.
I reach Nassejje’s home at Lweza on Mukono-Katosi road on a sunny morning following our previous conversation two days earlier.
In a blue maxi dress, Nassejje is in the compound. She offers me a sit and asks how I made my way to her home.
“What do you want us to talk about?” she asks. I narrated how I got her phone contact. As the conversation carries on, she accepts to tell her story.
Losing her way
“The memory of the evening when my father sent me to a shop to buy a cigarette is still vivid. After buying the cigarette, I lost my way home, in Katwe,” she shares.
Growing up, Nassejje only had a picture of her father’s home that was located somewhere near a well in Katwe; this made it hard for well-wishers to help trace her parents. She says it is only recently that her father told her they lived in Musoke Zone.
Nassejje could not even tell how much money they gave her but she remembers scanty details of one man who took her to his home, still in Katwe, where she lived for six years.
“Mr Kibirige found me wandering and wailing after failing to locate my home, he asked people around if any of them could recognise me but none did, hence taking me to his home,” she relates.
Nassejje says she was treated as his child but she never got a chance to go to school.
“We were many children in that home. We used to vend mangoes, grasshoppers and sweet bananas (sukaali ndizi) in the areas near Nakasero Market. We were happy, but I cannot tell what led to the change of events. Kibirige’s wife chased me away. I felt betrayed by my ‘mother of six years’.
A night on the streets
She had no option but to go to Nakasero Market where they used to buy the items they used to vend.
Nassejje found refuge in a small pickup truck parked by Market Street, downtown Kampala. However, the next day it had to be driven away.
The young girl sat on one of the verandas on the street as she cried helplessly. “One of the female traders approached me and asked why I was crying and I narrated my ordeal to her,” she reminisces.
The woman took her to Resty Nakalema, who ran a shop in one of the arcades downtown- Kampala. Nassejje started a new life.
At 11 years, Nassejje found a new home in Wantoni- Mukono.
Brian Kisakye, a clinical officer and one of the people Nassejje proudly refers to as a brother, says although Nassejje came to their home as a househelp, they treated her as their big sister.
“I was in Primary Four when my mother, brought Rehema home. She came in as a househelp and a week later, mum encouraged us to do house chores with Rehema fostering a bond between us,” Kisakye says. “It was not before long that our mother paid a tutor to train Rehema how to read and write Luganda.”
They would once in a while reprimand her since she was the oldest.
“My work was to clean the house, fix meals and bathe the children while the parents were away,” Nasejje says. Kisakye says she was part of their nuclear family since most of their relatives came by and left after getting what they needed. She filled the gap.
“We went with Rehema to church, and prayed together.”
She never gave up the search for her biological parents. Again at 15 years, she went to church in search of a solution. “I asked our pastor’s wife to accompany me to Katwe to look for my parents. Everyone we asked had no clue given that I did not know the zone.” She tried several times but in vain and she gave up.
She then changed her name to Peace. “I did not know the meaning of Rehema and being raised by Born Again Christians I wanted to fit in and have peace of mind. It is the name I use on my national ID,” Nassejje explains. She worships at Mukono Discipleship Church in Mukono.
Road to marriage
“I was an 18–year-old beautiful girl who hadn’t attained formal education but I was devoted to family and the church,” she says.
One day, Nassejje shared her story at church and someone picked interest in her.
“Mr Kyeswa approached me with marriage intentions; he came home to meet my mother. He said he was ready to marry me and had no problem with my background. He returned for the introduction ceremony.”
Meanwhile at church she was encouraged to keep holy until her wedding night at 19 years.
Her brother recalls how the marriage took place. “I was the muko (brother-in-law) at her introduction ceremony. I remember it was not easy seeing her off but we enjoyed the last two months before her wedding,” Kisakye smiles. The wedding took place in 2002.
A few years into her marriage, Nassejje lost her foster parents.
“I am thankful to God that my siblings did not give up on me even after our parents died,” she states.
The idea of looking for her parents crossed her mind several times but she could not do much given the earlier failed attempts. But her older daughters kept asking about their maternal grandparents. The couple told the children the full story.
Searching for parents again
In August 2018, as Nassejje was watching Taasa amakaago on Bukedde TV she saw a woman searching for her mother and days later, the results were positive. It is this that triggered her to call the programme host and narrate her ordeal.
“I copied the number off the TV screen and called Rehma Nakachwa, the programme host who gave me a Monday appointment,” she reveals.
With her hope renewed, they met and recorded her story.
Although Nassejje had made commendable effort, viewing her video troubled her, “I was uncertain about meeting my parents.”
Four days later, with no call for Nakachwa, her hope started waning.
Nevertheless she contacted Nakachwa who thankfully revealed that Nassejje’s parents along with her relatives had reached the office twice but Nassejje’s mobile phone could not be reached.
“I could not believe the news, I started crying so much that even my daughter wondered what the matter was. Despite my sceptism, I went to meet Nakachwa to confirm the truth,” she says.
Finally, Nassejje met her parents. Although she could not identify any of them, her parents and relatives immediately did.
According to her mother, Aminah Nabakabya, Nassejje also resembles her siblings and has a scar on her right hand from her childhood.
“When I looked at the scar and the fact that she resembles her siblings, I confirmed she was the one,” Nabakabya confirms.
“It was about noon when I met my people. I was speechless and so were they. Minutes later, I hugged my mother and asked her whether she is my biological mother and if she had made any efforts of searching for me but she cried. Later she told me the story,” says Nasejje.
Nassejje says her parents also got to see each other again that day, after 30 years. Her father was speechless. “Although my maternal relatives have thrown parties rejoicing upon meeting me after so many years, my father has not got time to welcome me officially and I have not also got time to talk to him at length. I call to check on him,” she says.
“My heart is at peace and happy to have a complete family.”
Her mother says…
It has been hard for me from the time I realised that my child had gone missing.
I went into a marriage while I was pregnant with Nassejje and I gave birth to her in 1985. I could not stay with her because my mother- in-law requested that I take the child to her father.
The next time I saw her (six months later), she was in a compromising condition and her right hand had burns.
Her father later took Nassejje to his home in Katwe and when she was three-and-a-half years old, she went missing.
Learning of the tragedy
Coincidently, I had also come to Kampala for a function and used the chance to check on my child. The father broke the news of how he had sent her for a cigarette at one of the shops but she never returned home.
A lot crossed my mind given the insecurity that was in the country at that time (1987). Moreso, there were no televisions like it is now and we could not even approach the police for fear of being mistaken for rebels.
The father says he tried to look for her but his efforts were futile and we ended up exchanging bitter words. Her father accused me of kidnapping the child saying I was pretending to look for her. I also thought he had sacrificed her.
We have since never talked or met. I would sometimes cry, ask God to at least reveal to me my child’s whereabouts.
Breaking the good news
I recently received a call from my niece saying she had seen my daughter (Nassejje) on TV but I highly doubted her and thought she had gone mad.
But different people called telling me the same story. My brother, who lives in Nansana went to the TV station and confirmed the truth though Nassejje’s phone number was off.
He (her brother) then requested that I travel to Kampala so that we handle the issue as a family.
Before I could leave, Nassejje called the TV host and linked us, that’s how I met my daughter again after so many years. When we met, the scar on her hand stood out. But she proceeded to hug me asking, “Mummy, are you really my mother, am I your real child?”
I was overwhelmed by emotion and I cried. We went to Nansana for a simple celebration.
By the time she got lost, Nassejje could only say her name, her father’s name (Rashid Muyingo) and abstractly where they lived. I am grateful to God that I have met my child.