The thought of it all was so amazing that it sent chills down my spine. America: land of plenty, a second chance, heaven on Earth. A place only seen on TV. Just the thought of visiting makes one do the unbelievable just to get there. Some use marvelous pictures of America as screensavers on their phones, and laptops, and as wallpaper and art to decorate their homes. This makes most want to live in a fast-lane-life and fantasy world and try to do anything to get to America. Where I come from, they call it a second chance to live.
The day that I had hoped for, prayed for, and fasted for came in a most unexpected way. My cousin, who is a preacher, got an invitation to preach in California. His church made contributions towards his travel and stay, despite the fact that all that was covered already. Being a church boy, I had spent most of my time moving from one corner to another in different churches and pastoral meetings in Uganda. It was the chance of a lifetime to go to America for a ministry with my cousin.
My mind was helter-skelter the entire time I prepared for the trip. I am the first-born in a family of five children, all of us from different mothers and the same father. My father’s wife is stepmother to four of us, and birth mother to the youngest child.. Because all the money was used to educate our stepmother, I was not fortunate enough to get more education. Instead, I am a breadwinner to my other three siblings, because we have been through a lot of hardship with our stepmother, who made sure that we had a falling out with our biological father. Things being so difficult to bear, I hid myself in the church where I got comfort. I tried to pass this comfort down to my step siblings. This brought me close to my cousin Caleb, the pastor, and our relationship grew.
On arriving in America, the only thing I could think of was about the flight, and how awesome our flight was. We were welcomed well, given a very fresh and comfortable place to rest, fed three-course meals, and surrounded by busy people going about their lives. All the time we would move around with our host, a pastor and a very good man of God.
All was well until the day Caleb returned to Uganda and I remained behind. We settled on this plan a few days before the end of our stay, when we visited my other cousin—a childhood friend who happened to be doing her studies in America. We convinced Caleb that I would wait for my cousin to finish her semester, then we could travel back together when she visited her parents. It seemed a perfect idea, and so—as difficult as it was for my pastor cousin to accept—he saw the logic in it. Little did I know that chance favors a prepared mind.
Life was comfortable, staying home at her place as she went about her daily chores and classes, unlike home, where you work daily to gather firewood for cooking, fetch water from the streams, and herd livestock. I wanted to make some money, and she started to make some plans for that to happen. She had so many friends who came to visit her, especially on weekends, and they had all sorts of fun. To me it seemed they were finding freedom within the busy schedule of the weekly hustles. Weeks went by, and still there was no job for me but staying locked in with my cousin in her house. Then the time to visit home, as planned, came and went.
Then eventually, day by day, I would be given directions and a well-wrapped package to deliver, and I would make some money from the delivery. This showed me I could make some cash, and I thought that by the time we returned home to Uganda I would be able to help my siblings with my earnings! It motivated me to keep doing what I was doing without knowing what I was carrying. I became money hungry,never even questioning anything, I just became a go-to guy.
One evening when I came from my routine delivery, I found our house in shambles. It was like a break in, but the door was intact. However,my cousin was gone and my bag was missing. I was confused, and had nowhere to run to or nobody to ask for help. I couldn’t go to the police because my visa had expired and I didn’t have a passport. I tried to ask around the neighborhood to find my cousin, but all hell broke loose. I never knew exactly what my cousin was doing while I was out delivering my package. I also used to guess what might be in the package, but never knew for sure. One neighbor who knew her slightly told me that the friends I used to see hang around with her were a gang engaged in drug dealing and sex work. I was very surprised to learn that her house was like a brothel! I never knew or suspected that she was doing sex work. The times I went for my deliveries she would do her thing, and by the time I came back, I would find another new person she called a “business friend.”
I was lost, with nowhere to go to and nowhere to hide. I waited for her to show up for days and days—but she never did. I tried to get to her, but no one knew where she was, or whether she had been taken. It didn’t take long before the house we lived in was foreclosed upon because of unpaid bills. Chased to the streets with nowhere to go, I went to my delivery point and met with the pick-up person. I explained my situation, and he took me to where he used to crash, and shared everything. I had no choice but to learn how to survive by any means necessary. I became one of the distributors, and connected people to where they could get some “steam,” as it is known in the streets. It became a norm for me to try to make money this way so I could try to bribe someone to connect me to the Ugandan embassy. I wanted to find my way home. But this took a sudden twist when one gang started a fight with us, claiming that one of us had killed one of their own and wanting revenge. There were several casualties in the ambush, and we were displaced for fear of our lives and fear of the police.
I have avoided mentioning names to avoid being tracked down by this gang, but I just want to find my way back home since here in the streets, it’s extremely dangerous—even more so than I can express in this story. You can be attacked, you can be killed in your sleep by another, for by the drugs we consume to help us stay strong through the difficulties. I don’t want to disappear like my cousin did. I don’t know where help will come from, but I am sure someone out there—maybe even my cousin Caleb—will hear about my story and come to our rescue. You are our only hope and helper now. I hope this reaches as many people as possible.