A woman rushes forward to watch 14-year-old David Muhwezi taking his first bath in more than a year.
She is amazed, wondering who would bother to give this smelling, homeless village beggar a shower.
Then she runs back and calls her neighbours to reflect on what looks like a waste of time. Muhwezi is well known to Susan Nantale. In fact, the whole group that gathers around a backyard bathroom where Muhwezi is having a bath, knows his story.
He is the village ‘leper’ who limps about, begging for food, moving from one unfinished building to another in search of a place to sleep.
Other people gather when they hear that Muhwezi is about to travel to the big city, Kampala, to get medical care. Earlier in the day, something rare had happened in Kisiita village; a Honda CRV had stopped in front of Zaveri Ndyamwaki’s tailoring shop, the occupants looking for Muhwezi.
At first, the locals thought the car belonged to the Bugangaizi West MP, Marble Bakaine.
“Every day, he would come here and ask me, ‘Is that woman really coming back for me? Has she called? Why has she not come today?” Ndyamwaki recalls.
Muhwezi, who suffers from a strange disease that has littered his entire body with wounds, was excited at the prospect of getting treated and would stop by Nydamwaki’s shop daily to ask whether there was any progress.
Muhwezi’s plight came to light during President Yoweri Museveni’s campaign rally at Kisiita Primary School in Kisiita village, Bugangaizi West county in Kibaale district. On that hot afternoon, Muhwezi had limped out of his hiding place, begging for help from the crowd at the rally.
Perhaps he would even attract the President’s attention, he thought. But at the end of the day, he limped back to his abode with a few coins and no hope of getting treated. What he did not realise was that someone had taken note and written his story.
When The Observer told Muhwezi’s story (See:Too sick to mix with humanity), people called in with offers. Dr Fred Kambugu, a skin specialist at Mulago, the national referral hospital, confirmed an appointment with The Observer to have Muhwezi diagnosed, while Rehema Namuddu, who is familiar with Kisiita village, was tasked with locating Muhwezi.
One thing stood in the way. Muhwezi had said he is homeless; that his mother had died and his father had abandoned him and moved to another village. So, he would have no caretaker when he travelled to Kampala.
After contacting two churches – Watoto Church and Light the World Church – Pastor Joshua Mugabi of Watoto advised that in the absence of a parent, we ought to contact the welfare department in the ministry of Gender and Culture, thereafter get a letter from Kibaale Police Post granting permission for Muhwezi’s travel for treatment.
But still, Muhwezi would have no caretaker to mind him in hospital. Pastor Wilson Bugembe of Light the World Church in Nansana insisted that Muhwezi had relatives who did not want to associate with him because of his condition.
“If they learn that there is money to help him, they will come out,” Bugembe said.
True to his words, when we told Ndyamwaki about the monetary assistance Muhwezi would get, he said the boy’s father was in a neighbouring village and would come with him.
But no bus or taxi driver would allow Muhwezi to travel in their vehicle; no one was willing to endure his smelling body on a bus for the entire journey. Besides, we would have to part with Shs 500,000 for the trip from Kisiita to Kampala by ‘special hire’ taxi.
With no other options, together with Namuddu, I jumped into my Honda CRV and hit the road at 11am on February 24. We arrived in Kisiita at 2.30pm and met with Ndyamwaki, who closed his shop as the three of us sought Muhwezi’s father, Vincent Kanyankole.
Ndyamwaki had been told that Kanyankole lives in Kijwenge village, 60km from Kisiita. After two stops, we ended up in Lwamata village. By then, I was tired and ready to abandon the search.
Ndyamwaki went to the back of a mud and wattle hut to ask for directions. To our astonishment, a woman reported that Kanyankole was here.
Stepping out from behind the hut, Kanyankole looked like he had fallen on hard times. He wore a weather-beaten black shirt, a pair of black trousers and tyre sandals. But he was ready to travel to Kampala.
Back in Kisiita, a search ensued for Muhwezi.
“When it is very hot, the heat [affects] him, so he goes back to where he sleeps and hides there,” Ndyamwaki said.
But he was not at his hideout. By then, our search party had been joined by other locals, who led us to two churches where Muhwezi gets most of his help. But even there, we were told that he had not stopped by that day.
After two hours, a small boy led the search party to another abandoned building far away. Sitting there, waving off flies, was Muhwezi.
As he limped back to the village, more people followed, wondering why of all people in this village, Muhwezi was the subject of concern. For the first time in over a year, father and son met.
Muhwezi looked at his father and slowly lowered his eyes without saying a word.
“I have been looking for you. Pastor Peritazi told me you ran away from his church. I look for you and you keep running away; why do you run away?” Kanyankole asked his son. But Muhwezi did not reply.
Later, Kanyankole gave his son a bath as he whimpered with every drop of water that touched his wounded body. The time was 5.30 pm.
Nantale could not believe Muhwezi’s luck.
“This boy is very lucky. No one would ever have thought that he could get help. We had even chased him away from our village, fearing that he would spread the disease among our children,” she said.
Another boy looked at Muhwezi, seemingly wishing he were the one travelling to Kampala in the big car. Even the local council chairman stepped forward and vowed to arrest Kanyankole if he dared to abandon Muhwezi in the hospital.
“I cannot leave him; I promise to take care of him,” Kanyankole promised the crowd.
As the car set in motion, the villagers were left in awe of Muhwezi’s fortunes.
At Kakiri town council, we were stopped by the Police. The policewoman asked why we had covered part of our faces. Before we could reply, she looked at Muhwezi and without further inspection, waved us off. The smell was too revolting.
We arrived at Mulago hospital at 9.30pm. Another woman, this time a doctor, took one look at Muhwezi and told us to sit outside and wait. When we asked her for help, she walked out, saying her shift had ended.
After nearly three hours, at 12.05am, Dr Godfrey Kasenzaki called Muhwezi in and examined him carefully; his hands, back, head, feet and nails.
The doctor did not seem bothered by the smell and, after a while, admitted the patient. He suspected that Muhwezi is suffering from Subcorneal Pustular Dermatitis, a skin disorder that affects the entire body, but he will carry out a series of tests to ascertain a definite diagnosis.
For the first time in years, Muhwezi enjoys the comfort of a bed, hugging his new blanket as he drifts of to sleep. He can now eat three meals a day and does not scratch his body anymore because the course of antibiotics he is taking is working.
“I don’t feel pain anymore,” Muhwezi says in a tiny voice. His neighbours in Ward 4B say he does not smell as much as when he had just arrived. He now walks with ease, and it is not even a week yet since he left his hideout in Kisiita village.
When Namuddu delivers a bag of new clothes for him, the joy in his eyes is beyond words. As his father holds out one shirt after another, the boy asks, “Are all those mine?”