Sometimes life throws things at you that would overwhelm even the most resolute of people, but for a 44-year-old mother of two battling with a sick husband and a salary which cannot purchase food for the family for a month, there is nothing too big that you cannot overcome, once there is life.
For Bonita (not her real name) life has been a struggle from childhood, and now a husband and two sons later it is still a struggle. While she has experienced the best and worst of human beings she is still not ready to throw in the towel.
Counting her blessings – and she said there are many – she pointed to the fact that there is a shelter over their heads; her two sons are in secondary school and do not miss even one day; she has very sympathetic and helpful colleagues; they are not naked, and even though there are days when they scrounge for food, she still goes to work; and her husband though sick is still alive.
She can go on and on but Bonita in a reflective move told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview that there is just too much for her to be thankful for. However, she confessed there are some days when she feels that she has reached her limit, like when she is faced with utility bills she cannot pay or her children are unable to complete a school project because of finances.
Bonita is not ashamed to lay her life bare for all to see, but she requested anonymity to spare her children scrutiny, because some may not understand. But she wanted to tell her story since the stories of people in her position are not often told, and when they are, it is more often than not in a negative light.
“It is not as if we are looking for people to give we something…but you know somebody encourage me to tell me story because I does struggle but don’t give up…” the mother of two said during the interview.
Life before now
Bonita recalled that she was the fifth of eight children for her mother and her father was brutally murdered when she was very young, leaving her mother to struggle alone to maintain the family. As expected it was not an easy task and her mother was forced to leave them and seek employment away from home leaving most of her children with a relative who ill-treated them.
“We didn’t want tell we mother ’bout how she use to treat we, but then it get too much and one day when she come back we tell she and she tell we, okay I not going back,” Bonita related.
Her mother remained with her kids but while her presence meant that they were no longer physically ill-treated, since she did not receive a steady salary it meant that she struggled to feed and clothe them and even house them, as one time they were practically homeless when the house they were in was sold.
The mother of eight cleaned homes, cooked and sold, and according to Bonita whatever she could have done to “catch she hand” she did.
“It hardly had anything we didn’t sell; she use to make things and give we to sell at school…” she recalled.
At one point Bonita said her mother and some of her siblings lived in what was once a fowl pen. Explaining how they got to that point she said at one time they had nowhere to call home and a woman with whom her mother worked part time said she had a huge building at the back of her home. That building turned out to be the pen she once housed chickens in when she had a thriving chicken business.
“But this pen was big and I had a brother who was a carpenter and if you see how he turn this pen into a two bedroom house…” she recalled, adding that they quickly forgot that their home was once home to chickens.
The yard had many fruit trees and they were allowed to pick as much as they wished.
But one day reality hit home and it did so very hard. It was about six months after Bonita had her first child at age 25 (she was married) that they were reminded that it was a fowl pen they lived in. The owner of the property had a visitor who enquired about the building behind her home and she promptly told her that it was a fowl pen.
“The woman turn and ask how is a fowl pen and it get up curtain and she said ‘oh some people living inside.’”
“My mother heard this thing and if you see how she cry to break her heart; she really was hurt and is then right there she pray and pray and ask God for a piece of land,” Bonita remembered sadly.
Eventually she got a piece of land and she started to build with some assistance, and as soon as the house because livable she moved in. By then Bonita had moved out and was living with her husband.
Sadly for her mother who struggled for years and whose one wish was to one day own her own home she got sick and died two months after she moved into the house.
“The house didn’t really have no good window and so, but it was she own and it was really hard that she dead and did not enjoy it…” Bonita said revealing that her family now lives in that house which belongs to all of her siblings, and she too one day hopes to own her own home.
Bonita did not marry a rich man but she said her husband worked hard, provided a home and introduced her to many things in life.
“I would not say we had everything, but me husband treat me good and he work hard and he try; you know he never do me anything bad,” she said reflecting on her marriage.
But one day he became very ill after suffering from a severe headache and could no longer work every day. He worked as a labourer for many years for a man, and Bonita said his employer has been very accommodating helping with medical bills among others, but still it is a struggle. Her husband can no longer work yet he is allowed to turn up for work whenever he feels he could manage and does a little odd job here and there. But when his contributions to NIS and a life insurance policy are taken out, sometimes he would only bring home $1500 and that sum coupled with the $20,000 she makes as a sweeper cleaner does not feed the family for a month.
And if she had listened to people Bonita said she might not have still been with her husband as even some of her relatives have encouraged her to leave the only man she has ever known because he is ill.
“You know even my family would tell me leave the man because he sick and can’t help me, and some people would tell me why I don’t get a man with he…but I say how I could do that, my husband never do me anything bad,” the woman said while shaking her head sadly.
She said sometimes her husband would cry uncontrollably because of his medical condition, but she tries to support him as much as she can.
Bonita said that she would work with people from time to time to make an extra dollar and she is not ashamed because she is making an “honest dollar.” She also accepts whenever she is offered assistance, because as she puts it, there is a need and if God provides then why should she refuse.
Her children are also an inspiration, as Bonita recalled that even though her oldest was ill for years and they were without electricity for three years he still persevered at Common Entrance and gained a place in a secondary school.
“I tell all two of them that they have to do the best they can because I working hard and they must take in their education. If nothing else most days I get up at 4am and mek sure everybody get food to take to work and school,” she said.
And from since nursery school Bonita said she has always been active in the parent teachers associations at her sons’ schools, and for her this plays a great role as teachers would always call her up whenever they feel that her sons need some assistance.
She always encourages her sons to “walk with you head up; not because you poor you must beg, people don’t have to know you don’t have.”
Bonita said there is so much she can complain about, like going to bed hungry on her birthday, but complaining does not help. She sometimes reflects that she is almost enduring some of the hardships that her mother did, but at other times she allows the positives to take precedence.
As school closes she has already lined up some cleaning job for the Christmas season hoping to provide for her sons during the season.
“No matter what, I would have a blessed Christmas because at least I would have life and I just working on keeping my family together. And you know God may smile on us…” she said with a smile.
And even though she can ill afford it, Bonita said whenever she can she lends a helping hand to those who need and if she is blessed, she shares.
“You know is not that I don’t be happy for help, but I not begging, God sees and he provide it and once there is life I working; I not lazy. This is me, I love to help people even though I does need help too, and like I said I not lazy and once I get life I working.”