At the age of 13, Mariam Nabatanzi birthed twins. 5 more sets of twins came after – alongside 4 sets of triplets and 5 sets of quadruplets.
However three years ago, the now 39-year-old from Uganda was abandoned by her spouse, leaving her to take care of their surviving 38 children alone. It was just the most recent setback in a life defaced by calamity for Nabatanzi, who resides with her children in four overcrowded houses constructed of cement blocks and lidded with furrowed iron in a village encircled by coffee fields 31 miles (50 km) north of Kampala.
Two and a half years ago, her last pregnancy consisted of complications. It was Nabatanzi’s sixth set of twins and one of them perished in accouchement, her sixth child to pass away. Then her husband – frequently absent for long periods of time – left her. “I have grown up in tears, my man has passed me through a lot of suffering,” she expressed at her home during an interview, hands cupped as her eyes teared up. “All my time has been spent looking after my children and working to earn some money.” Dire for cash, Nabatanzi juggles several tasks for income: event decorating, hairdressing, selling and collecting scrap metal, selling herbal medicine and brewing local gin. The money is devoured though by food, clothing, medical care and school fees.
“Mum is overwhelmed, the work is crushing her, we help where we can, like in cooking and washing, but she still carries the whole burden for the family. I feel for her,” her eldest child stated, who had to drop out of elementary school when the moola ran out. Twelve of the kids sleep in one small room with grime-caked walls, on metal bunk beds with thin mattresses. In the other rooms, children sleep on the dirt floor while lucky little ones pile onto shared mattresses. Older children assist in taking care of the young ones and everyone performs chores like cooking. 25 kilograms of maize flour can be required in a single day, says Nabatanzi. Meat or fish are rarities.
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