By Charles Tjatindi
Curious faces greet you as you enter the Kuisebmond Old Age home premises. Like a hawk about to pounce on its prey, they watch your every move as you edge closer. They keep staring at you as you approach the home supervisor to explain the reason for your visit. The home supervisor then excuses herself and walks towards the curious onlookers, a few minutes later the elders nod in unison.
In a flash, smiles and grins replace the curious and concerned faces after the home supervisor assures them your visit is friendly and the ‘guardsmen’ abandon their fort and wholeheartedly welcome you into their home.
“One can never be too careful these days. You young people are always trouble,” says one of them after being introduced to this reporter.
Soon the atmosphere eases, and the elders are now assured that their latest visitor has no intention to harm them. That is when they start talking…
Standing proudly in front of his room is 68-year-old Harold Matheus. In his hands is a fishing rod, which he swings from side to side as if he was busy fishing, while he narrates his life story.
“I am a man of the sea. I love the sea,” he says. He pauses, looks out into the distance as if trying to read something from the soft wind blowing outside. He continues:
“This would make a good day for fishing,” he said.
Matheus has been staying at the old age home for the last two years. He is a widower, with one daughter. Although not a converted Christian, he regards himself a believer. That is why he attributes all his success in his life to the ‘mercy of the Lord’. Matheus receives the State monthly pension, which he says is not enough to survive on. Therefore, to complement his income, he does what he likes best – fishing. He then sells most of his catch and leaves the remainder for his own pot.
“It feels like I am playing. I just sit there, the fish bites, I then take it and sell it to others who do not have my skills,” he said referring to fishing.
He attributes his love of the sea to his youth days as a fisherman. He was only 17 when he first landed a fisherman job. He fondly remembers how he and some deceased former colleagues would compete for the largest catch.
Gradually, albeit unknown to him at the time, the sea became his second home. Typical to life at the sea, he would go away for months into sea without seeing his family.
He reveals a witty grin as he recalls his days with girls at the time.
“I was good, my boy. They would eat out of my hand. You young ones do not know how to treat a lady,” he notes.
He relates how as a young man, he would walk girls to the lagoon and simply sit by the seaside and stare into the wide-open sea. Even on a messenger salary, which is what he did as a first job, he knew how to entertain girls, he says.
“I only earned 8 pounds (about N$16) per month as a messenger for the Walvis Bay City Council. But life was so cheap you could actually survive on it,” he notes.
While relating the good times in his life, Matheus could not help wondering where he would have been had he taken on a slightly different route – one that has a bit more responsibility attached, as he calls it. He feels that while he had generally lived a good life as a young man, there were things he could have done differently.
“I spent most of my youth drinking alcohol. I should not have done that. Had I been sober most of the time, who knows? Maybe I would not even be here. Maybe I would have built my own house … but that is life,” he related nostalgically.
That is why he advises young people to make hay while the sun still shines, as it might be too late to reverse the situation once they are old. Matheus had since stopped drinking and has been sober for over 10 years now.
“Seek the Lord while he is near, young people … seek the Lord now,” he concluded before noting that he now needs to lie down a little.
In a room adjacent to that of Matheus live 74-year-old Josef Ashali and his wife. Ashali is a common figure in Walvis Bay’s Kuisebmond suburb. That is no surprise, as the ‘mechanic’, as he fondly calls himself, has been living and working here for the better part of his life. Ascribing to his nickname, wreckages of motorbikes, quad bikes and bicycles can be spotted outside his residence.
“I am a mechanic … that is what I do. I repair things … I am a mechanic,” he reaffirms, as his wife looks away with a slight smile. She had probably heard this before and judging from the expression on her face – she does not agree.
Her husband sees this and reassures her that he indeed is a mechanic.
Judging from the wide collection of anything and almost everything that resembles a piece of engine or a part of a bigger automobile or simply a piece of iron, one would not doubt tell where his hobby lies. As to whether he fixes them, however, remains a mystery.
“I am a mechanic. You see all these motorbikes, I am going to fix them soon, you’ll see me riding them one day, mark my words,” he notes.
Ashali, who has been living at the old age home for about 10 years, initially worked as a fisherman, before landing a job as a ship mechanic. As a pensioner, he now lives with his wife at the home. On any day, he would be spotted on the streets of Kuisebmond, and even as far as Tutaleni – collecting empty cool drink bottles, bones and of cause old rusted iron pieces. These he sells at a local scrap salvage company for a few dollars, which usually come in handy as a supplement to his old age pension.
“Life is tough nowadays. You cannot simply sit back and do nothing. You have to stand up and do something with your own hands,” he says.
Ashali suddenly drops the conversation and tends to his make shift invention that he uses to go about the streets of Tutaleni and Kuisebmond. He just remembered that it needs oiling before he can take on the next trip in an hour’s time.
Realising the opportunity, Simon Haimboti, another inmate at the home stepped up to the challenge to narrate his story. In well spoken English and Afrikaans, he relates how he got into home.
“I came here in 2002, and have been living here since. I like this place, it is really home to me,” he says.
Asked on how he got to speak Afrikaans so well, he related that he learned it from his girlfriend in Cape Town. He notes that he never got married, but only involved with a coloured woman from Cape Town, who he calls a ‘girlfriend.’
“If she is not my wife, what is she then … she is just a girlfriend,” he justifies.
He relates how he met his girlfriend.
“I was a fisherman in Cape Town. I was one of the best. She simply fell in love with me when she saw my strong arms pulling those ropes,” he says. Asked when he intends to marry her, he quickly changed the topic. He opted to talk about how young people are destroying their future instead.
After a half an hour sermon on why the youth must act more responsibly, he finally concluded.
“Today’s young people are arrested for stupid errors and crime, while we were arrested for wanting to be free. They should change … they should just change.”
Obviously not in the mood to revert to the former conversation, Haimboti firmly shook this reporter’s hand and walked him out to the entrance of the home. He then walks back to his room, with a sense of accomplishment knowing he got his way with the reporter. Once inside their dormitories, he would probably narrate to the others how he put the reporter in his place.