It was a cold a drizzling day when I met Megan and Cleo; two homeless gay men belonging to a group called “The Queens of the Gardens” because of their frequenting the famous Company Gardens, I shiver even though I am wearing a jersey and I can’t help wondering how cold these two young men sitting next to me must feel in their light tops.
Cleo is 19 years old and Megan is 20, they are both originally from Mitchells Plain where they grew up and got thrown out of their comfort zones because of circumstances they both attest that they couldn’t control, they have never met before they became homeless but their circumstances made them best friends. This makes one wonder if the lives we are living are something we can or cannot have control over. As they share their stories with me I can’t help notice that they are bubbly and well-spoken even though Megan has told me that he dropped out of school and he can’t read.
Cleo ended up on the streets of Cape Town six years ago when he couldn’t take the instability in his family life anymore “my mother has never had a house of her own, and we have always been moving from place to place. Most of the time we were living her boyfriends and would have to move on when the relationship ended” he says with a glazed look in his eyes. He tells me that six years ago he and his mother were living with one of her boyfriends as usual when the man’s sister arrived one night and told him that it is about time he found a place of his own, that was not the only problem he faced this time; the man they were living with was intolerant of his sexual orientation and had very strict rules about how he was supposed to be a “man”. Cleo goes on to say on that very same night he packed whatever little he had and decided to move to the City with hopes of finding a job which turned out to be a rather difficult task for someone so young and who doesn’t have any education. That is how he ended up living by himself in the streets until he met Megan a little later who became his friend not only because they share the same circumstances of being homeless, but that they both are gay men who have been rejected by society.
Megan who is a year older than Cleo and has been homeless for seven years was forced to go out into the cold streets of Cape Town when his mother and sister were shot in an unexplained incidence, and His other sister is also in Cape Town making a living as a commercial sex worker. He comes across as the stronger of the two and he is so well-spoken for someone who never had an education and his sense of humour adds to his aura. For someone who has no place to call home and depends on what people are willing to give him, Megan is very spiritual and very optimistic about life. If only he had an identity document he would be able to get a job and make a living but that is not the case as his mother was negligent and did not even bother registering his birth.
Cleo and Megan shared with me how they live by begging on the streets and having clothes given to them by total strangers while in the other hand some people tell them to go look for jobs when they ask them for money which ironically enough is not large amounts as all they need for a single meal at the soup kitchen, where the go three times a day is R1.50. They both share the same fear of something happening to them and Megan being the oldest is more concerned about Cleo’s safety than his own, “every night when he is not back or delayed in coming back to Bo Kaap where we spend the nights I cry and pray that he be safe”. What strikes me as interesting and dispelled my misconceptions of homeless people is that the two “queens” laughed and said not at all, but we do smoke cigarettes when I asked them if they do drugs.
Life is indeed very interesting but when you get to talk with the people who are experiencing something you have never imagined could happen in your life is quite an eye opening experience and how we take for granted all the things we have whereas there are other people who wish they could be us.
(picture by Simonia Mashangoane; Cleo, me and Megan)