Nový Prostor vendor Dagmar: “I’m proud to still be self-sufficient”

Interview by Monika Veselá, Nový Prostor

I work at two selling points, which I alternate between, at Lužiny and Luka metro stations in Prague. Except for the big draught, I like the Lužiny metro station. Well, here at the Luka metro station we’re at least partially covered, so it’s a bit better. In fact, you came to see us while the weather is at its coldest. Of course, I’m looking forward to warmer weather, just two or three degrees above zero would be enough.

I used to sell the magazine at the Hradčanská metro station. If I compare the selling points, mentally, I feel much better here. Here, no one verbally assaults me or calls the police on me and so on. I may have slightly fewer customers than before, but it’s better for me. I already have regular customers who sometimes chase after me between the stations. If they can see that I’m no longer at the Lužiny metro station, they come to find me at the Luka one.

“My pets come first”

I once sold sixteen magazines in a day. That was a record. Conversely, the least number of magazines I sold in a day was one. But I really like the people here. For example, have you noticed my new clothes? Yesterday, one of my customers called Magdalena came and brought me a pair of warm winter trousers and a warm down jacket. People here also spoil my dog Lumpik a lot. They say they see where my priorities lie, that my pets come first. I bring Lumpik with me to work because otherwise he’d have to be tied to a tree all day and wait. I can regularly take him for a walk every hour and he’s got everything he needs here.

“The fact that I stand here all day trying to sell people something…somehow I don’t think about it. I tell myself that I’m at a fashion show.”

A lot of people already know the story about how I got Lumpik. But maybe someone hasn’t heard it yet. I used to sweep the streets for extra income. Two years ago, on 27 December 2019 to be exact, I was cleaning up the mess left over from Christmas by a paper recycling bin. And I heard whining. My colleagues told me I was hallucinating and that it was nothing. But I wasn’t convinced and so I looked inside the bin. I took out a box with four puppies in it, just beginning to open their eyes for the first time. And that’s how I got my partner in crime. I also took care of the rest of the puppies and then gave them away making sure they would go into good hands. Lumpik was the first puppy that I picked up from the box and he peed on me right away. At first, I observed his character, he was up to all kinds of mischief and shenanigans and that’s what his Czech name Lumpik reflects.

“I’m at a fashion show”

The fact that I stand here all day trying to sell people something…somehow I don’t think about it. For example, I tell myself that I’m at a fashion show, or I guess if a person will approach me or not. But the worst thing for me is that I’m often in pain and my feet, ears and fingers are numb with cold. My health is poor, that’s why I’m in pain. Pretty much everyone at the selling point already knows this anyway, so why wouldn’t I tell you… I’m a cancer patient and it’s been over a year now since I received my diagnosis. I couldn’t even sell the magazine for nine months, because it all made me feel too tense then and I had already reached my all-time low. But what I enjoy about being a vendor is that I’m with people. Often my customers monitor my attendance here and God help me if I’m even three minutes late. (laughs)

I came to the place to pick up the magazines for the very first time on 16 January 2017. At the time, I had lost my home and had pets that also needed something to eat. In addition, I needed to save money for the cottage I’m staying at. It’s two and a half meters by three and a half. It’s a former garden tool shed, which of course has no heating. When I get there, the first thing I do is take care of the pets. I boil water for my tea while getting changed and then I make myself instant mashed potatoes. All that in a jiffy. I only cook at the weekend. Then I have to take my afternoon medication and later on also my night one. Then I snuggle up, put my glasses on and turn on the radio. That depends on what time it is. I like listening to different opinion polls and shows, so I try to tune in to something. If nothing’s on, I either grab a book or yarn and I knit. I knit all the time. I knit for children cancer patients, I’ve already made plenty of things. When I have extra money, I buy yarn. If anyone has any leftover yarn or a piece of clothing to unravel the yarn from, I’d be very grateful.

Photo by Kateřina Zemanová

Field worker course

I also took a field worker course and visited various social services in Prague, where I met Nový Prostor vendors who told me not to be afraid and to join them. Well, before I could even figure it all out, I got dressed one day and found myself standing in front of Nový Prostor‘s day centre. I also remember the very first day I went to sell the Nový Prostor magazine. It was horrible. I got three magazines for free and I didn’t sell the first one until the fifth day. There were many times I wanted to storm into Nový Prostor‘s pick-up point and tell them I was quitting, but I persevered.

Being a field worker is a voluntary job. I had already been helping women, taking them to doctors and social services to have their ID cards made and so on. I was in a similar situation, but at least I had a part-time job and all my documentation in order, they didn’t. For example, for Hanicka, whom I met by a bin, I had to change water in the bath six times before she was properly clean. I got her dressed, took her to social services and I helped her get her ID card. This was about eight or nine years ago. Today she lives happily on a ranch. I even took women who were pregnant, had nowhere to go and nothing to eat, under my wing.

“I carried all my belongings around in a backpack”

I found myself without a roof over my head several times. The longest time was eight years… I slept in a tent, the small igloo-like one, which I carried in my backpack. I always put it up, took it down, took the pets and got on with the day. Then I met a few people I knew who took me to this tent village. Imagine a bus stop, three tents, a day bed sofa, some furniture and blankets. That’s how I used to live. And I was glad to be there even if it wasn’t much. I had a stove in there, so I could get some heat. I was working, but I didn’t have a place to live because I had been tricked twice by house owners and twice by cottage owners. Then I gave up and didn’t trust anyone. All the money that I made I spent on my pets. I split my time up between working at a recycling centre and cooking.

“I’m most proud of the fact that I’m still self-sufficient. That despite the state I’m in, I’m able to take care of not only myself, but also the pets. And even if I had the chance to do things again and differently, I still wouldn’t change a thing.”

I can’t even count how many animals I’ve saved. Occasionally, people would bring animals directly to my selling point, knowing that I would take care of them. Then there were also a lot of animals abandoned by the bins, some of them even disabled. I even got a rabbit that somebody had left by the bins with all the equipment and also guinea pigs and rats. I have them all at home.

A woman living on the streets

I come from southern Bohemia. My mum ran away from her mother and went to help build the Lipno Dam. That’s where my father – my biological father that is – met her and staked his claim. She was from Prague, and when she returned, she already had me and was married to her friend, so she wasn’t coming back as a single mother. I saw my biological dad for the first and last time when I was thirteen, otherwise he was never with us.

Then my great-grandmother died, so my mother had to leave the pub in southern Bohemia she was working at. However, we eventually made it back there with my mum and my stepdad, Bohousek. Then my mum became a widow because he was an operator of railway switches and got hit by a train. I was three years old and so my mum had to start taking care of me on her own. From first grade, I went to school again in Prague. After elementary school, I went on to business college. And in the end, my mum also died when I was ten years old, so I had to get by all by myself somehow. Since then, I have been a child of the streets. Well, now I’m a woman living on the streets. And because I signed Charter 77 [a petition calling on Czechoslovakia’s communist authorities to respect the international human rights agreements], I could not graduate and had to leave. Finally, I mucked out at a cow farm.

I’ve been married twice; widowed once and divorced once. But in general, I’m most proud of the fact that I’m still self-sufficient. That despite the state I’m in, I’m able to take care of not only myself, but also the pets. And even if I had the chance to do things again and differently, I still wouldn’t change a thing. Nothing at all. Many people tell me that I ruined my life with the Charter, but I signed it out of conviction.

Translated from Czech by Erika Kadlcikova