Africa

Gay Ugandan saved his life by hiding in a tree, but now …

Peter, a gay Ugandan, hid in a tree to escape death at the hands of his homophobic family, then fled to Kenya. Because his mother had given birth to him in Kenya before taking him to live in Uganda, he is ineligible for refugee status in Kenya. He must continue onward in his quest for a safe place to live.

By Kamarah Apollo

This is the story of my friend Peter, who is desperately trying to reach Mozambique, where he will be eligible to apply for asylum.

Peter, in a photo that has been edited for security's sake so he will not be easily recognized. (Photo courtesy of Kamarah Apollo)

Peter, in a photo that, for security’s sake, has been edited so he will not be easily recognized. (Photo courtesy of Kamarah Apollo)

It all started when my mum passed way in 2014. My family kept pushing me to marry. When my mum was alive, she had given me protection and no one told me anything of that sort. I had felt safe. I didn’t know what I would undergo after she passed away.

Whenever I visited my family’s home in Mukono after my mom passed away, the story was always the same — questioning me about when I intended to marry, pushing me to get married, etc.

I had a job at a shop in Kampala, but last December I was suspended when I came in late one day. Then my boss hired someone else to fill that job. I had no choice but to go home. When I got there, the first question I was asked before even greetings was where were my wife and kids. That was my dad. I explained to him that I hadn’t been saving money that would enable me to sustain a wife, because I was taking care of paying the Shylock who had lent us some money during our mother’s sick period, death and funeral.

My dad brushed off my argument. He said, “I’ll explain to the entire family why you haven’t married.”

Trouble awaits you, he said.

He took his phone and called all other members of our extended family, telling them, “The person you’ve been waiting for is here. You can assemble tomorrow and ask him all that you’d been waiting to ask him.”

That left me terribly troubled and confused. I just walked away from my dad in silence and waited to see what tomorrow would bring.

Get married or else

The following morning, people started streaming in — my uncles, cousins, wives to my uncles, step brothers and their wives, etc. I knew all was not good but kept quiet. None of them acted like they’d even missed me, despite being away for long. But I stayed cool.

Mukono is 25 kilometers east of Uganda's capital, Kampala, and 170 kilometers from Uganda's eastern border with Kenya. (Map courtesy of NationsOnline.org)

Mukono is 25 kilometers east of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, and 170 kilometers from Uganda’s eastern border with Kenya. (Map courtesy of NationsOnline.org)

After breakfast, I was summoned in front of everyone and asked all sorts of questions concerning marriage and why haven’t been able to marry.

I said the same thing I had told my dad upon arriving — that I wasn’t able to marry because I didn’t have cash to sustain a wife plus paying the Shylock.

My dad and the rest of the family gave me an ultimatum: In the next two weeks I should be married and settled, then leave the wife at home and go back to the city to work so I could look after my wife. After two weeks, if I had not gotten a wife, it  wouldn’t be good for me.

I tried arguing that it’s hard to get a wife so fast. The process needs time and courtship. You need time to study whomever you intend to marry and know them better. All my explanations were brushed aside. No one would listen. I was told that the next time they would convene, it would be a negotiation meeting between me and my family.

After giving me that warning, they got to drinking and eating. I was in distress. I felt like I didn’t deserve to live. I missed my mum so much and wished she was alive. Nobody bothered to think how I felt and whether I was OK. I noticed that everyone was scared of being seen talking to me. If I had money, I’d have left immediately but I didn’t have any.

Later in the evening, some family members left. Of those who remained, no one talked to me. A week passed without anyone approaching me.

Loneliness and self-pity engulfed me, because everyone was busy talking to each other and neglecting me.

Encounter with a gay guy

I had gone to Catholic schools run by Catholic missionaries, so on New Year’s Eve I went to midnight mass at the nearby Catholic church. When the mass was over, I left and noticed a gay guy who had always nagged me since our high school days.

He followed me. We started talking as we walked away from the church. Then I heard my cousin’s voice calling me from behind me. I immediately told the guy to vanish. He did, but my cousin came up to me and asked who I was talking to.  I told him it’s a guy who said “Hi” and now is gone. My cousin tried running after him, but I told him the guy was on a bike..

My cousin got furious, asking for the guy’s name. I too was fuming. I asked my cousin, “Am I was supposed to know the name of everyone who greets me even in the dark?”

My cousin beat me up and started threatening that he would expose me. Soon they’ll bury you, he said. I told him to say whatever was on his mind, because I no longer cared. He kept threatening me for days.

The deadline arrives

Hell broke loose on the morning of Jan. 7, which was the two-week deadline I had been warned about. Extended family members started arriving again. No one told me anything but I was worried. I suspected that my cousin had told them about the gay guy.

Before long, my dad woke up and joined their conversations. Breakfast was prepared and eaten and no one bothered about me. My aunties, the wives of my uncles, the wives of my brothers and step brothers, didn’t talk to me, but I could see that some of them were in distress.

A goat was slaughtered and lunch prepared. No one bothered to ask if I had  eaten. I was too scared to go into the kitchen. I was starving. I wondered if I would have become a beggar in my own father’s home. Lunch went by as I starved. Another cousin told me that he wanted to talk to me, so we planned where to meet. We left separately for fear of being seen together.

When we met, he told me that I needed to escape and run away. If I didn’t,  what awaited me was death, he said. I would be murdered in cold blood. It would most probably be a most painful death, probably slow torture.

Now I knew that escape was a matter of  life and death, but I didn’t have any money to allow me to move away.

After my talk with that cousin, we went back home separately. I acted normal, although my hunger was severe.

That evening, when dinner was being made, I went to the kitchen and asked for some food. The mother of the cousin who had told me what awaited me served me a large amount of food. She knew that I had not had anything all day. I ate like a mad person.

When I was finished, I was sleepy, so I slept on the couch. I don’t know for how long.

I was awakened by blows, kicks and slaps from family members. They seized me, dragged me outside and beat me. Then, while I was still half-way sleepy, they threw me  down near the fireplace. Everyone stared at me. My dad asked me if I had decided to a shame him and his entire family by my evil and demonic Western-acquired habits.

My heart sank. I realized that my legs needed to take me far away from the wrath of these people. They were my family, but they had turned inhuman and were brewing with animosity.

I had now been beaten twice and my whole body ached with pain. I knew that death would be next.  The mother of another cousin sent him to me to inform me of that.

My mind was racing. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to run away as soon as I could.

‘I won’t let you live to see the morning sun’

My dad was still talking, cursing me with his ancestors, swearing at me, naming the names of dead people, including my mother, even blaming her for giving birth to me. He disowned me. He asked for water so he could wash his hands as a symbol of getting rid of me, implying that I was no longer his son and never bore his name.

I was weeping. He picked up his walking stick, which he liked carrying everywhere. He pointed it at me and said, “If I had known you were this cursed, I would have buried you with your mother.”

Then he said, “Your burial is hours away. I won’t let you live to see the morning sun.”

On hearing those words, a lady screamed. That created a commotion as people turned to look at her.

Hiding in a tree

In my mind, I heard a voice telling me to run away. I didn’t think twice. I raced for the nearby maize farm and hid deep in it. I climbed a tree because I knew they’d search for me.

Ugandan refugee Peter cannot seek asylum in Kenya because he was born there. He hopes to seek asylum in Mozambique. Tanzania is closer, but an anti-gay crackdown is currently under way there. (Map courtesy of Pinterest)

Ugandan refugee Peter cannot seek asylum in Kenya because he was born there. He hopes to seek asylum in Mozambique. Tanzania is closer, but an anti-gay crackdown is currently under way there. (Map courtesy of Pinterest)

 As I feared, people began looking for me, running up and down with spotlights and phone lights. Thank God’s it’s corn season, I thought to myself. That helped me a lot.

They searched for me for almost an hour until they gave up. I stayed there for another half an hour after I stopped seeing the spotlights to be sure no one was down there waiting for me. Then I climbed down out of the tree, wondering where I should head.

I decided to go to the home of the gay guy whom my cousin almost caught me with and tell him everything.

I got to his place at 2 a.m. and knocked on his door. He gave me some cash, which allowed me to travel a little ways. I was still scared that I would be hunted down.

On the road

I reached out to other gay friends. In February they sent me enough money to get to Nairobi.

My father is Ugandan and my mother was Kenyan. I’m also considered to be Kenyan, because I was born here, even though I was raised in Uganda.

Unfortunately for me, that means that I am not eligible for financial support as a refugee in Kenya. I cannot apply for asylum here. I have to go to another country to do that.

I am hoping to reach Mozambique and apply for asylum there. Eventually, I hope to be resettled in the United States.

Kamarah Apollo, the author of this article, is a gay Ugandan refugee who was relocated in October from Kenya to Salt Lake City in the United States. He continues supporting his friends in Kenya and Uganda and remains in touch with them via social media.

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