Fairy tale marriage after 28 years on the streets

Henry

She was on the streets for 20 years, a prostitute for eight years, a drug addict, robber and even a gang member.

Just when she ended up in the deepest pit of misery, Faiza Cox (48) decided that this is not who and what she is. Today, she works the night shift at the Christian organization Mes, where she looks after other homeless people and drug addicts and encourages them.

Faiza’s life story is like a thriller movie unfolding before you. During her time on the streets, her drug-addicted daughter died of tuberculosis, her son was sentenced to 15 years in prison for murder and she suffered severe burns with tissue damage after which she spent months in hospital when her shack burned down. Disaster after disaster, and it could not have gone worse.

Would there be hope for someone who led such a “colorful” existence?

Yes, thanks to angels who came her way, second chances, people who believed in her potential and iron will.

Faiza talks heart on her sleeve. Frank. She often shares her life story as an inspirational speaker. She is a new person today.

Things started to go wrong for her when she married a man who physically and emotionally abused her at a young age, just after school. They had three children, one of whom was adopted at birth by a distant family member.

After divorcing her husband, her mother took the children into her home in Mitchell’s Plain and raised them.

Because she used Mandrax, no one could stand her. In any case, she didn’t want to be there either and went to the streets. Where there is only a kind of freedom and no rules.

The drugs got her even more in its grip. Later she started working as a prostitute to survive and to support her drug addiction.

“You have to be drugged to do this kind of work,” she says.

It became an even more vicious cycle of drugs and prostitution. Clients were plentiful – up to ten a night – but she also experienced sexual violence from men who did not want to pay.

“I also ended up in hospital during this period after being stabbed with a knife. At one stage I was in a coma for three months. It’s dangerous on the street.

“During the Soccer World Cup, I first started doing business briskly. I started stealing. I specialized in robbing people of their cell phones and laptops. With this I could earn up to R5 000 per night.

“Me pimp made pockets full of money from this because I could blow my money again on drugs that made him rich.

“It was a rough period. A hard life. The drugs made all fear disappear,” she says.

Later she was a clutch herself.

“I didn’t want to do any more road work.”

She says that the Nigerians and the people of Cameroon are very active in the underworld and rent apartments for this purpose.

Faiza’s homes were squatters’ huts at Stikland and later under the Tienie Meyer Bridge in Bellville.

There she became a member of the 28 gang. Yes, there are also women who belong to gangs.

This was the beginning of her robberies. She managed to do this by walking to the taxi stand and pulling out a knife while two accomplices assisted her.

During this period she also served imprisonment for attempted murder and robbery. She was sentenced to five years in prison, but in the end only served three years.

Finally, she moved into a squatter’s hut next to The Haven, a non-profit organization where homeless people and drug addicts are helped to start a new life.

“I only did it because it’s a safer area and not to be close to The Haven,” she emphasizes.

The turning point came when she found out that her daughter (26), a heroin addict, had passed away.

For George Narkedien, head of The Haven, she pissed her off to the ground.

“He kept yelling at me to come over there.”

She just didn’t want to know anything about him.

Then her shack burned down. Her rescuers could not get the door open and they kicked it open. She was hospitalized again.

When she got out she decided her old life was over and she finally checked in at The Haven. There where a new life, a new love and a new faith awaited her. Rushdie, now her husband, was himself a drug addict and homeless.

“For the first time in my life I cried out to God. The hardest part of the entire rehabilitation process was forgiving myself.

George opened his arms to her. The very man who was her “biggest nightmare” took her under his wing.

“He couldn’t believe his eyes when I walked in there. I started The Haven’s program immediately after checking into the Sulta Bahu Rehabilitation Center.”

At The Haven she started going to church with other residents and converted from a Muslim to Christianity.

“I am now the only Christian in my family. Jesus changed my life.”

Love began to blossom between her and Rushdie at The Haven and soon they were head over heels in love.

“He would bring me a flower and tell me I was beautiful.”

This is not something she was used to.

“Then he asked me right in front of the church on his knees and in front of everyone to marry him.”

The wedding was held at the shelter which was dolled up for the occasion. All the homeless, inside and outside the shelter, were the guests.

The entire wedding, from the cake to the dress, was sponsored.

And the very George, whom she resented so much at one stage, led her down the aisle to their wedding ceremony like a true father figure.

“He told me it would take three months, then I’d be fine. But I just have to surrender. To surrender means that I have to keep my mouth shut,” she laughs.

“Thank you, today I reap the rewards.”

She tells of George that he was very strict with her. When she arrived at The Haven, he preached to her for half a day. He wanted to see if she was really serious about her conversion.

“He caged me at one stage for six months. He wanted to make a lady out of me.”

Faiza initially worked at The Haven but moved out after she got married. She now works the night shift at Mes. Rushdie works as a vehicle driver making deliveries.

The couple have been married for almost two years now and although Rushdie is 10 years younger than her, they are radiantly happy. At a youthful 38, he is now also “grandfather” to Faiza’s grandchildren.

“We commemorate and celebrate our wedding day every month.”

She still has regular contact with George. He works just around the corner from them.

Like so many drug addicts and prisoners, she says that she never had a father present. George, who walked every step with her, is now the father figure in her life.

Wasn’t it problematic when she changed her faith?

“Yes, it was somewhat of an obstacle. My mother, who is still a Muslim, initially turned her back on me. Still, I heard that she was the very first of all the wedding guests to stand there in front of the church doors. She is happy with my choice.

“My mother (65) raised my children. Now it’s our turn to take care of her. She can no longer move or speak. She had three strokes due to high blood pressure. Our children then teamed up and found a carer for her.”

Her mother also now feels more reassured about her.

They also end up having a mother-daughter relationship. Something they never had before.

One of her former clients came to visit her at her workplace. He couldn’t believe his eyes that she was the same person he got to know on the street.

But this, she says, is all just grace – pure grace.