Fighting to Survive

Content warning: The stories throughout this issue may be especially activating for some readers. Many of these pieces involve descriptions of traumatic experiences including sexual violence, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, queer/transphobic violence, in addition to the violence of states and false borders.

I came to the United States five years ago from Uganda with an invitation from my husband who had secured a visa a few years back. My husband and I were both brought up at a children’s home in Kampala. Luckily after studying until A-level, my husband got a visa and came to the United States eight years ago.

When we arrived here everything was OK. We were living a good life until 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and that’s when everything started going south. My husband was working for an IT firm in San Francisco. In April 2019, the company had to lay off some employees and, unluckily, he was one of them. 

We had saved up some money for a rainy day so we were still not too bad off, and I was working as a waiter in a nearby restaurant. We tried to survive the situation until August when the restaurant I was working for also closed, and we were both unemployed. At this time my husband was stressed and had started drinking. I was optimistic about the situation and encouraged him to keep looking for another job, as I was doing, too.

At the start of 2021, my husband had become depressed and was drinking too much. He would come home and start beating me up, but as an African wife that I was, I endured and I was still by his side. Around March I received a letter from the landlord that we hadn’t paid rent so I confronted him to ask him about it only to find out he had used up all the money we had saved. I talked to the landlord and explained our situation and he was sympathetic. He allowed us to continue living there and asked that we pay as soon as we had funds.

Two months later, the landlord couldn’t put up with us and again we were given an eviction notice. By this time my husband was not even living in the house. He had started using heroin, and most of the time I had to get him from the drug houses. After I was evicted, I was willing to go back to Uganda so I contacted the embassy. Little did I know that my husband had sold my passport so that he could buy drugs. It had been used illegally, and the embassy was actually looking for me. 

At that moment, I was confused. I’m a fugitive. I don’t have papers, I’m homeless, and I really didn’t know what to do. The few friends I had wouldn’t pick up my calls after they heard my husband was on drugs. I used the little money I had to rent a hotel for a few nights and buy myself some food, but because I didn’t have any income shortly it was all over and I was out on the streets.

I was still trying to get a job but most of the hotels and restaurants had closed so there wasn’t much I could do. I turned to shelters for sleep and showers, but I wasn’t able to get a bed consistently. So I decided to become a sex worker — at least this could feed me, and I was able to sleep at the client’s place at times.

When I was working the streets, I would go check up on my husband in the drug houses, but shortly after I was informed that he died after he took a bad batch of drugs. 

I’m still working the streets, but it’s not paying as well so I’m still homeless. I can’t find a decent job because I don’t have papers, and also I can’t approach my embassy because my passport is flagged. I’m just living under the radar hoping I will earn enough to rent a house and also get a lawyer who can help me with the immigration.