So another day to use my ten toes to walk the streets and pavements of Durban. It still has the effect of feeling as if I am more in contact with the city when I walk rather than driving. So with no specific destination in mind, but wanting to either move towards the city or beach area, I went down Argyle Road toward the beach. It being a sunny, blazing hot day, it was a slow walk.
On Argyle Road, by the bridge, I saw a security officer from the company which I believed to be in charge of chasing the beggars away from the robots. I also saw a guy (who I’ve seen at church and begging at the robots) go to a bin, lift it up and grab his hidden “I’m hungry, No Job, No shelter, Please give me some money” sign. He took his sign and headed towards Stamford Hill Road. I asked the security guard if he was going to go chase him away, but the guard said that’s not in their jurisdiction.
So where this security company patrols there will be no beggars, and where they do not patrol there will be beggars. They basically just chase the beggars from one area into another.
So I continued my walk towards the beach along Argyle Road, and just at the next robot I saw a guy named B. He looked like he was in discomfort and when I greeted him he just grunted and replied with a disinterested “hi”. He seemed sick and tired and weak. He said he begs so he can get shelter fee. He told me he does not do drugs, although I could see his lips where dark and cracked as drug smokers lips generally look. He was absent-mindedly nibbling on a sandwich (he didn’t look like he was enjoying it). I shared a bit of my story in the hope that it would make him feel a little at ease, but he replied with “so what do you actually want?” I said I just want to talk. He said he does not want to talk and added “in fact I was doing pretty well without you here… I don’t need to talk”. I got the message and slowly walked off after he got up and headed towards a pole where he had more food.
I’ve noticed a lot of the guys begging near the street robots always have a bag nearby, either by a pole or by a bin. There is generally food inside that they keep for later, and they still hold a board which says “Please help, no food, I’m hungry”. I’ve also noticed that they have a feel sorry for me facial expression when begging, but when you talk to them their face is generally fine or even better; they are actually slightly happy. Knowing that their need (Whoonga) has been met keeps them on the happy side, mostly due to the fact that food is not the problem. The main reason they are begging is because they need a daily fix and they want to sleep at the shelter. If they don’t make enough for shelter they just need enough for drugs. One guy told me “the more I make, the more I smoke”
So as I continued towards the beach in search of a more willing and open, homeless person, just by the robots near Sun Coast Casino and George Campbell, I met D. He was down in mood, spoke with a soft voice and lowly natured. He was basically crying without the tears. He told me how he doesn’t know how he landed up there, how he used to be a taxi driver and had a license. He also told me he just recently was able to get a temporary license but then he just lost it and how hard for him that was. He is from Port Shepstone, is an only child and his family home is non-existent, although he still has relatives that side. He would love to go back to Port Shepstone because he believes there at least he will not suffer like he does here in Durban. He said back home people always use to ask him to drive for them, and that what would probably happen again. He sleeps by the grassy open space near George Campbell and he pointed to the garden area in front of us and said “I sometimes sleep there”, and every now and then would exclaim “ey this is hard”. This guy needed help.
As we were talking a taxi driver drove past and made a comment to him, and he replied “hey you, you don’t even talk to me anymore but back then….” They knew each other and it confirmed for me that he really was a taxi driver. He said he was hungry, so I offered to go to Pick ‘n Pay and buy him something to eat. I got him a pie, chips and juice. When I came back he was stoked and said “wow you kept your word, thanks”. So while he was eating I started to share about myself being an ex-drug addict and having been homeless for 2 months. I told him this because it always seems that people open up more when you have been open. All this time he had not told me he smokes Whoonga, but I could see it. After I shared my story he was touched and said “to be honest I also smoke”. He told me that he eventually had no money to renew his professional driving permit (PDP) and the police kept arresting him and he would pay them off. Then his boss would ask for money and he would not tell him he paid the officer for not having PDP, as well as smoked portions of the day’s takings. So he ended up with no job and on the streets. He mentioned that he had a place to stay and when he lost his job as a taxi driver the guy he stayed with basically said they can’t stay together any more.
He told me a story of how he got arrested for a crime he had not committed. After 9 months in Westville Prison, one day he attended a court case where the judge was a white lady. The officers were speaking in Zulu about the judge, thinking she couldn’t hear them. To their surprise the white lady judge replied in Zulu “I can hear you, and you think I can’t release the prisoner?” The next day he was back in court and he was released.
He also told me how he sometimes wishes he can get arrested again just for two weeks so he can get past this painful withdrawal (Arrosta) process of not smoking. He mentioned how he has tried but if he goes two days without smoking Whoonga the pain is hectic. He told me once he got this medicine from the chemist which was supposed to help but it didn’t. He took this medicine for four days and on the fourth day was sweating and drank the whole bottle and the pain was too much to bear, so he came to the same robot at midnight and a lady gave him R20. He went straight to the dealer, smoked and the pain was gone. So he has tried and really wishes he can just be locked up somewhere until he is fine.
He also occasionally helps out at the booth market, and he mentioned that when he does he feels like a “real person” because when he goes there he has a bath and tries to make sure his clothes are on the clean-ish side. It makes him feel like a productive member of society. I encouraged him to continue working there on Sundays.
He was very grateful for our conversation and took in a lot I said, because when I had left he said he hopes to see me again and he prays he can also be helped like I was. I told him about the Methodist feeding scheme and Salvation Army and how he must try getting his temporary drivers again. He said he will and he will try find out more about this Methadone, which is apparently helping some get off Whoonga. We spoke about a few other things but his energy when I left him was up and he definitely had hope, which is something I like seeing.
With a sense of D’s story being very informative, and the sun’s scorching heat getting to me, I headed back to the office. On my way back I saw B sitting down by another set of robots and not in a good state; my heart cried out for him. He is probably going through withdrawal pains (Arosta).
On my way I bumped into a guy who I’ve briefly spoken to before. He begs at the robots and I had previously told him he must go to Salvation Army if he needs food, but I was in my car that day so I didn’t get to have a thorough conversation with him. I greeted him and asked him if he remembered me. He said “yes, you are the guy who drove past in your car and said I should go to Salvation Army”. So I asked “so did you?” He replied, “well, I’ve actually just come from there and they gave me a loaf of bread, and have told me to come back at specific times when they have the feeding scheme”
I was so glad that he had gone, and we spoke about a lot of stuff related to NGOs and ensuring people on the streets get help. He didn’t have the limp which he normally acts out when begging. He told me that he is not standing at his spot today because there is a “this fat policeman” who is on duty and if he finds him (a white young man) at the robots, he takes him and drops him off at Umlazi or Kwamashu and doesn’t care if they don’t have bus fare. He said this with a “sick and tired of it” attitude. He showed me some onions, tomatoes and potatoes he had just bought, and said that he is taking them back to his girlfriend/wife so she can cook them and feed their child. When he had previously told me about his wife and kid I did not believe him, although now I do. I could feel that he is worried about them, especially if he gets dropped off in Umlazi or Kwamashu.
Then he told me how he will come back and hustle for shelter fee later. He told me he smokes Whoonga, but his priority is his wife and kid, although he does smoke every day. Just like the other, he smokes to get rid of the pain. He really seemed as though he would like to stop Whoonga, but I didn’t get to ask him. I just saw a young father addicted to Whoonga wanting to provide for his family. I went from thinking of him as a big con-artist, because he acts like he is disabled so he can get food and shelter for his family and Whoonga for himself, but now I see him as someone who wants help but only knows this lifestyle as a means to survive. It was a brief interaction with him, and I would love to see him again and actually get more of his story.
That is something important: that is they (homeless people) all have stories and histories worth being heard or told, and I kind of wish I could start a reality show where they could come and share their stories and let us into their world. Hopefully with the intention of assisting them through a rehabilitation process; at least those who are earnestly wanting help.
It’s weird but there is something remarkable about the daily activities of homeless people. To a certain extent they are less worried then most “normal people”; they live off nothing basically while “normal people” live off abundance. With each of those who have been willing to share about themselves, as much as they are broken in certain areas they are also at peace with certain issues or circumstances. Being homeless in Durban is not that bad. Stand by the robots and you’ll surely get fed. Otherwise there are lots of feeding schemes all around the city on different days. The real downfall is shelter fee and clean shelters. Those that I have spoken to complain that the shelters so are filthy that they would rather sleep on the streets (e.g. a park or outside some business steps or front door or some corner somewhere). Nonetheless, if you have no big dreams for yourself, being homeless in Durban is not that bad; it’s not the end of the world. Although if you do have dreams then it will be hard and a painful experience. Just my thoughts, who am I? After all I’m not homeless. Even though I was on the streets for 2 months, I was never really and truly homeless; my mom would have taken me back without even thinking about it. I chose to run away because of my own shame and guilt; I chose to use drugs over being obedient to my parents. Drugs never chose me, I chose them. So I landed up where I did, because of the choices I made. We are all faced with daily choices, and the choices we make daily shape our days and futures. Until next time, stay blessed.