How The Homeless Spend Christmas Day

26 Dec 2015 15:10pm
By Lydia Pitiri

WINDHOEK, 26 DEC (NAMPA) - Spending Christmas on the streets is not a choice, Centhia Xoagus says when Nampa visits her under the bridge she calls home at the Wernhil Park Shopping Centre’s taxi rank.
People fortunate enough to have a place to call home spend their Christmas with friends and family, most likely enjoying a generous home cooked meal.
Some time during the day presents will also be opened, some costing much more than it would to give Centhia or one of the 20 other people living under the bridge along Dr Frans Indongo Street a new set of clothes.
Speaking to this news agency on Christmas Eve, she describes the hardships of daily life on the streets, sleeping in makeshift structures made of cardboard boxes.
Here, having a basic necessity like a toilet is a luxury.
“We make use of the public toilet to fetch water for cooking and bathing. If the toilets are locked we wash ourselves at the train tracks behind Wernhil,” Centhia says.
When asked what they do on Christmas Day, they indicate that the most they can hope for is that someone will, in the spirit of Christmas, take pity on them.
“We will just spend our Christmas here and hope that the church people bring us food and clothes like they sometimes do,” she says.
Centhia, 24, and her older brother have been living under the bridge since 2013, when a “misunderstanding” led to them leaving their aunt’s house where they had been living.
Spending Christmas with their parents is even less of an option as their mother died in 2004 and their father died when they were both still toddlers.
She would not say what went wrong in the house they stayed in, but it was clearly a difficult situation.
Their grandmother passed away in 2002. Their aunt then apparently sold their grandmother’s house and bought land in Okuryangava where they lived with their aunt.
“If we didn’t leave that house we would have killed her because things were just bad there, but we are here now,” she says.
As Centhia speaks about her parents she looks away, trying to conceal the tears in her eyes.
People laden with shopping bags, probably containing food and gifts for Christmas Day, walk by on their way to the taxis which will take them to their homes.
The taxi rank is noisy, with cars racing by more of the same makeshift structures under the bridge to get to their next customer.
Centhia says they are used to the noise and actually enjoy the music coming from the taxis parked at the taxi rank.
“We don’t have electricity here, but even if we had it we could not afford to buy TVs or radios, so we enjoy listening to the music they play.”
One of the few days when it is quiet is Christmas day, as most shops are closed then. Even the street vendors they assist will not be around.
“You know if the shops close we won’t make money or have food to eat as there will be no one around here. For a rare moment we are going to have this place to ourselves,” she says.
The street vendors operate just a few metres from Centhia’s home, selling food to those who cannot afford to buy food from the high-end restaurants and fast food outlets close by. They also provide Centhia and her friends with a small income in exchange for running errands.
Simon Paulus, 30, from Mariental has been on the streets since he was 10 years old. He is accompanied by his girlfriend who is unemployed.
They have two children who are living with their maternal grandmother on a farm.
“I want to spend Christmas with my family and kids but I don’t have money to go home. My parents died when I was still young,” he says.
Simon makes N.dollars 50 a day from helping kapana vendors sell their wares under the bridge and guarding cars.
Obet Kaperu, 38, has been living on the streets since 2008 with his girlfriend. Their three children were taken away by social workers and put in homes where he frequently visits them.
“We will spend Christmas like any other day because nothing is different and at the end of the day we are still on the street,” he says.
Most of the homeless living here are adults who have been on the street from a young age and have even become parents while living on the streets. Centhia herself had a miscarriage a year ago.
“A lot of the people here who have children either send them to their families if they have families or else the social workers come to get the children. There are some children around however,” she says.
Centhia watches people pass by as she sits on her old mattress covered in clothes and blankets, surrounded by cardboard boxes. Not one looks her way.