Seated calmly at the stall in the market is this youthful lady, Rebecca Nambwayo. With a simple hello, she hurries off her seat to welcome the clients she has received. As we introduce ourselves to her as journalists and not clients, her smile broadens. We reveal to her our mission to search for unsung heroes like herself; and she is very receptive and gives us audience. As our conversation progresses, she reveals to us how she ended up at the market. Nambwayo Rebecca, a vendor in Nakawa Market, in Kampala city council operates from stall number 180. Apart from herbal medicine, she sells onions, tomatoes, eggs, carrots and other vegetables.
The market stall which she now occupies was started by her mother 20 years back in 2000. Her mother who acquired this stall to get money to take care of her children and herself begun by selling tomatoes, onions and other vegetables before advancing to herbal medicine. Before the lockdown, Nambwayo said her mother had many clients both for vegetable and the herbal medicine.
She revealed that this was her only source of livelihood. Nambwayo’s mother would commute from Mukono town to Nakawa market every morning and evening to sell her merchandise. She had her clients and suppliers who would bring the supplies to her stall. Nambwayo would once in a while help her mother out at the stall.
However, things changed in March when Uganda reported her first case of COVID-19 positive patient. Many things changed immediately; Nambwayo and her mother had to adjust to the new guidelines in order for them to remain in business. Earlier that month, President Yoweri Museveni in one of his directives advised market vendors to sleep in the markets to halt further spread of COVID-19. He said that, whereas the government would not close markets, there were adjustments which were supposed to be made with immediate effect; markets were only to be used for sale of foodstuffs like: matooke, sweet potatoes, cassava, rice, beans, cowpeas, beef, chicken, vegetables, etc.
Nambwayo and her mother heeded to the directive and had to make a decision fast. They would later decide that since her mother was too old to sleep in the cold at night, she returns home and takes care of Nambwayo’s children while Nambwayo stayed in the market to continue with the business and to also ensure that the family has food on the table during the lockdown.
She added that she has stayed in the market for three months now and does not have hopes of returning home anytime soon because the restrictions are still too harsh. Nambwayo observed that though she has chance to speak to her three children whom she has not seen in three months, she misses them dearly.
According to Nambwayo, the clients have not been many during the lockdown. However, she has only decided to stay in the market not to lose them. The other reason she braved the cold in the market was to keep the business afloat and also to make sure that she puts food on the table for the family. She added that she also wanted to protect her children and mother from getting the virus, in case she had contracted it from the market.
Her biggest challenge during the lockdown has been the fact that the clients were few, since many of them were all locked at home, with no means of going to the market. Before the lockdown, Nambwayo noted that people would walk to the stall and buy a variety of things making her earn some good amount of money. However, business has slowed down as there are now only a handful of people who come to buy specific things.
Another challenge she has had to live with in the market is sleeping in the cold without a mosquito net. This was because of the extremely cold and bad weather, since the market stall is an open space. Besides, there were thieves who would steal from the stalls while they were asleep at night. Above all things, Nambwayo said the few clients who came to buy from her stall was another challenge.
Much as the suppliers were also few, Nambwayo was never discouraged from working or giving up the fight. She added that some suppliers failed to get transport and some failed to supply because they lacked packaging materials for the medicine. With Agro products, she also noted that sometimes the suppliers delivered things not on order, and observed that there was a big challenge of quality, which at times was not to her taste. With an aim to get some money to take care of her mother and children, not even COVID-19 has stopped Nambwayo from moving on to sustain her family.
And from her mother’s stall, Nambwayo is learning the trade and hopes to further get her own stall. Although Nambwayo craves of going home, she noted that she is consoled by the fact that her children are safely being taken care of by her mother. She is however grateful to her market administrators for providing for them water, free of charge.
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