My friend Eurica, the car-park lady whom attended our Christmas dinner last year has had a very difficult few months. More accurately, a difficult decade.
Both her brothers are now dead due to gang shootings (the youngest killed two months ago). The Muizenberg Law Enforcement repeatedly take all the belongings of the homeless population, a weekly punishment rather than proactive law enforcement. (Last year I confronted a managing officer and he openly admitted to their thieving.)
What little money she earns, what clothing she has is frequently stolen while sleeping in upper Muizenberg park.
Her husband was killed twelve years ago, leaving her a single mother to a now 12 year old girl and 16 year old boy. They live a few hours from here by bus, with Eurica’s mother-in-law.
Today, I was walking back from the train station and saw Eurica sitting by the beach, clearly shaken. She said two police officers and her mother-in-law showed up today, unannounced. She had burst into tears, fearing that one of her children was now dead too. But they came to force her to make child support payments. Now, she fears she will be thrown into jail for inability to pay.
I went up to my AIMS office at 9:30 pm and spent an hour doing research. I printed three websites about child support law in South Africa, and hi-lighted the sections that pertained to her. In particular, the formula they use to calculate the payment amount, as there is no fixed amount.
I found a SA government subsidy program for single mothers which pays 350R per month per child, or $32 USD. Incredible that anyone can live on that. I have heard that families in the Townships, just down the street, live on $50 a month. Rice and water.
I then wrote a letter addressed to the magistrate which provided a positive disposition, stating that Eurica loved her children, wanted the best for them, and appreciate the past twelve years of care her mother-in-law has given. I detailed the challenges of her life and closed with an offer of 150R per month (at Eurica’s suggestion) and then gave her 300R as pre-payment for the months of October and November.
I gave her a strict set of rules for how to manage the meeting, making certain to bring all legal documents back for my review before signing. I want to make certain she does not sign away her kids nor commit to some amount she cannot afford.
She is suppose to have a government social worker, but none has been provided. I will fill that role until we can figure out what is going on. Plenty of experience in these matters between my parents’ life work and my time playing attorney for Terra Soft.
The hardest part of the evening was when she broke down and sobbed, saying, “This is not the life I imagined. I don’t understand why this is me. I stopped prostitution. I stopped taking drugs. I don’t drink. I pray to God but he never answers. My brothers are both dead. My mother has gone crazy. And I barely live day to day. I don’t believe there is a God any more … or he has abandoned me.”
Earlier today she took a handful of tablets in an attempted suicide. A friend rushed to the store and made her drink 2 litres of milk, which caused her to vomit, and she survived.
When we were talking, the stress in her body was so evident one of her eyes vibrated while the other was shut; her hands opened and closed uncontrollably, her face listless and speech slurred. She can’t take any more stress. She is on the edge.
Last year I had promised to help her with a proper CV and training to get a job. I have not done this, despite the fact I see her a few times a week. I know I have failed her in that respect. I don’t believe she will stop fighting and making bad decisions, therefore I don’t believe the CV will make a difference. But I know I should try. I need to follow-through, as I did tonight.
Two of the car park attendants are walking her to the next town where she has a place to stay until the meeting at the court, in the morning.
I gave her a clipboard, pen, the cash, and my card if she needs help during the meeting. I hope they don’t coerce her into something illegal. The legal system is bad enough in the States, I can only imagine what is attempted in South Africa.
This entire experience is a bold reminder of all the years my father worked as a social worker, the stories of the challenges of life brought home to the dinner table each night.
I find myself scared, sometimes not wanting to be around Eurica for long periods for more than a quick chat. Her stories are dismal and the look of her weathered, worn face, ten years my junior, a reminder of what living without shelter means. Her hands are those of an elderly woman as her body is fighting HIV.
Sometimes I just want to walk away and not look back because it is so fucking hard to realise how much people suffer. I know I could not survive a day without hope, the way she has for more than a decade.