Brink of despair
Published: Mar 15, 2017
As a 39-year-old mother speaks to us about her desperate efforts at survival after falling on hard times, crouched in the corner of the small, rundown government apartment in which her family resides in an area Over-the-Hill, one of her daughters, a nine-year-old, bursts into tears.
Her pain mirrors that of her mother’s.
Nadia Bevans tells us of having to send the girls — four of them — to school some days without lunch.
We decided to visit Bevans after hearing of her plight.
Three of her daughters — including five-year-old twins — listen as she describes their life with no electricity at home and no running water.
Her oldest daughter is 13. She walks through, but only briefly.
In the tight hallway are several water bottles.
Bevans says she fills them up at the nearby government pump.
She puts them in a trolley and she pushes them home and lifts each one upstairs. Living on the upper level of the drab complex makes the task more difficult than it is for some others.
On the small couch in the cramped living room area, Bevans has spread out several sheets of paper.
We pick them up to read and notice they are eviction notices.
“I have nowhere to go,” the woman tells us, her eyes brimming with tears.
But she says, “I’ve already started packing up everything, because they told me we have to go.”
She says she used to work at a hair salon when she became pregnant with the twins, but when they were born they had medical issues and she stayed home to care for them.
They are now in school, and she says she has been searching for work for months, but cannot find any.
Someone gave her a scholarship to attend the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute, which she says she does in the evenings while a neighbor watches her daughters.
Bevans pulls out a bag of hair accessories she says she made. She wants to show us that she is creative. But selling them has been tough, she says.
“Right now my light is off. My water is off. My mother passed away in September. I have about seven eviction letters to move. There’s nowhere to go with my kids,” Bevans says.
“Every day is a struggle just putting food on the table. I’m trying to still be positive, still trying to take them to church, still trying to make it appear to the world that things ain’t as hard as it is.”
When the sun goes down, the day is pretty much over.
Holding her face in her hands, she tells us, “Sometimes, I can’t even afford to buy candles.”
The family has been without electricity for about two months now, the mother says.
Without an income, they won’t have power anytime soon, it appears.
We asked her what it’s like to be in the apartment alone at night with the girls.
“It’s scary,” she responds, adding that some nights she does not sleep.
One of the girls has asthma, she adds — “She usually uses a machine, but because the light is off she can’t use the machine.”
To entertain themselves, she says, they sometimes sing songs. But usually when the dark falls they try to go to sleep and wait for the sun to come up to bring the light again.
“I live by the sunlight,” the woman chokes.
“When darkness come, everything needs to be shut down. I have to have everything done because we use candles and that isn’t safe.”
We ask how the girls complete their homework with no electricity.
“I have to make sure everything is done before night,” Bevans responds. “I have a little search light. Sometimes I hold it for them to do their homework. I make sure they stay steady in the night, not too much movement because you can’t really see anything.”
Bevans did not seem to remember the last time she and her daughters had running water.
Lifting those five gallon bottles after filling them at the government pump has long become a way of life, she tells us.
Her neighbor — an older lady with a calm, welcoming demeanor — sits nearby, offering encouragement as Bevans shares her story.
The girls stare on.
The nine-year-old wipes her tears.
They appear trapped in poverty.
“Sometimes I have to go out in the night and beg for things because I don’t know how they’re going to go to school the next day,” the mother says.
“Sometimes they’re at school and I trying to hustle something so by the time they come home they can have something hot to eat. It’s getting worse since my mom died.”
We ask Bevans where the fathers of these children are.
One of them, she says, helps out sometimes.
“He’d come sometimes to bring cooked food for them or food that he purchased. Sometimes I have to tell him we need money to buy water. Sometimes we don’t have water to drink,” Bevans tells us.
The father of the nine-year-old girl is dead, she adds.
We ask her about the heartache of watching her daughters cry.
“It is so hard because sometimes when they’re crying, I’m crying too and sometimes I feel that I’m failing as a mother because I can’t give them what they need and want,” Bevans says.
The twins are now crying too.
We try to imagine what these young children must be feeling; what they must endure through no fault of their own or any choice that they made.
They are innocent and they are helpless with a mother who is losing hope.
Bevans says she’s legally married to their father, but he is absent from their lives.
We ask her a question we imagine many readers would want to know: Why have children if you cannot afford to take care of them?
Bevans responds: “Children don’t come from man; children come from God, and God don’t make no mistakes. I’m not a negligent mom. I’m a good mother. I attend my kids’ PTA meetings. I’m involved in everything.”
She adds that she is trying to keep her daughters involved in positive activities, including church groups.
“I just fell down financially,” Bevans adds, insisting that she is done having children.
We also ask her if she plans to vote in the general election.
Bevans says she will not vote.
“I don’t see the point of it,” she adds.
“The MPs and the people out there when they get in their fancy cars and they go home, they go home to a comfortable setting.
“They can’t feel my pain because they don’t know.
“They say they know, but they don’t know what it is for four girls to be crying out to you saying they’re hungry.”
Bevans says she asked her MP to help her with her light bill, but she says he told her he was not in a position to.
We imagine that many others in these areas are making similar requests of their members of Parliament.
But such handouts are not sustainable.
What Bevans and others in her predicament need are jobs and the skills necessary to take on available jobs. They must also truly desire to work.
In December, the Department of Statistics reported that unemployment (as recorded in October 2016) had fallen from 12.7 percent in May to 11.6 percent.
But that fall was attributed partly to temporary jobs. So the true state of joblessness in The Bahamas is probably not accurately stated.
It is also hard to quantify how many people in Bahamian communities are living this way.
Studies are done so infrequently.
According to the Department of Statistics, 43,000 people were living in poverty in The Bahamas at the time a survey was conducted in the first half of 2013.
The absolute poverty line — the minimum required for an individual to meet his or her basic needs — was stated at $4,247 annually.
The results of the Household Expenditure Survey showed that 12.8 percent of the population lived in poverty, an increase of 3.5 percent over the 9.3 percent of the population who lived in poverty at the time of the Living Conditions Survey in 2001.
Bevans depends on about $100 a month from the Department of Social Services to help feed her children.
“That’s the only income I have,” she says, adding that she buys products like flour, grits and corn flakes because she is better able to “stretch” them.
As we leave Bevans and her girls to go back to our own lives, we wonder what will become of them.
Will they be evicted?
Will she find a job?
Will she lose hope?
We think again of the children’s tears.
The best help we can provide, perhaps, is to tell their story — for whatever that is worth.