Our vendors: Carmen (Hinz&Kunzt, Hamburg, Germany)

Interview by Jonas Fullner, Hinz&Kunzt

Carmen, 39, sells Hinz&Kunzt in front of Aldi in Lüneburg.

A few weeks ago Carmen narrowly escaped death.

For hours she stood at her spot trying to sell copies of Hinz&Kunzt. Without success. On the way home she started to feel ill. But instead of taking a break and at least having something to drink, she spent her last cents on a bus ticket. Never dodge the fare. But at home she could not move. Her husband called an ambulance. The emergency doctor diagnosed a heart attack. At the age of 39.

Carmen sells Hinz&Kunzt, photo by Mauricio Bustamante

A serious shock – especially since Carmen’s brother died of a heart attack aged 27. Even so, she left hospital after only six hours. She did not want to leave Ionut, her 12-year-old son, unsupervised at home. And she was afraid of high medical costs. After all, she is not insured. The native Romanian says she already owes 4,000 euros. Even though she never did anything wrong. “I pay for bus and no steal,” she assures in broken German. She is unable to pay her numerous medical bills.

For five years Carmen has been struggling with health problems. She had a serious car accident near Brunsbüttel in 2010 and lost her unborn child. Carmen says, “Since then I have never been well.”

But Carmen’s life was not easy before the accident either. She grew up in a small village in the east of Romania. A poor region, where there is neither work nor hope. An education was out of the question. She did not even finish school. When Carmen was 14, her brother died. His children came to live with their grandmother and Carmen had to look after them. Thinking about her childhood still brings tears to her eyes.

At the height of the global economic crisis in 2008 she left the country. She tried her luck in Hamburg as a street musician first, with an accordion. She knew how to play only one song. “Donauwalzer all the time,” Carmen laughs. A rare sight. She was actually happy back then. She earned enough money for a room. With the health issues the debt increased. Carmen says, “I often cannot sleep at night”.

Luckily she received a seller ID from Hinz&Kunzt. The sales of the newspaper secured her livelihood. But the worries continue, particularly for the future of her children. While her daughter Ionela has a family of her own now, the 22-year-old is unable to find a permanent job.

And then there is Ionut, the apple of her eye. The 12-year-old only started attending school in October. Why? “I was afraid,” says Carmen. Afraid that her son would be taken away from her because of her debts or that she herself would be sent back to her native country. Only at Hinz&Kunzt did she receive help. Carmen drew new hope. Her biggest wish: “Ionut should have it better in life than I had.”

INSP publishes an international vendor story every week. Come back next Wednesday to read another story from one of the thousands of inspirational men and women who sell street papers.