Our vendors: Jela (Surprise, Zurich, Switzerland)

Interview by Dina Hungerbühler, Surprise

My name is Jela Veraguth. I am originally from the ex-Yugoslavia region, but more precisely from today’s Serbia. I first came to Switzerland at the age of 19 to work as a maid for a season in La Punt. During this time, I met my second husband, with whom I am still married today. Together we have a son who is now forty years old. In Serbia I have two older children from my first marriage. My Serbian husband was the reason why I fled to Switzerland. He was often violent.

Since my parents didn’t have enough money, I never got a proper school education. Then twenty years ago, I started selling Surprise magazines. I like doing this work because I am my own boss and can organise my working hours myself. For a long time, I was on the street almost every day. Sometimes my husband wakes me up at night because I’ve shouted in a dream: “Here is the new edition of Surprise!”. Then he scolds me for fun: “Jela, do you even have to sell Surprise magazines at night?!”

Unfortunately, lately I have had less time to sell Surprise. Because at home I have to look after two of my family members. My husband has had bad hip problems for three years. My youngest son has been suffering from type 1 diabetes since he was 19 years old. This is the worst form of diabetes, which can only be contained by lifelong insulin intake. The condition can have serious side effects such as blindness or kidney failure. Unfortunately, this is the case with my son. Because his kidneys are getting worse and worse, I have to accompany him to the hospital three times a week for dialysis.

The therapy against his increasing blindness has not helped so far, so he is more and more restricted in his movement. His toes were also amputated three years ago. My family’s health problems are slowly leading to financial hardship. My son has to take more than ten types of medication each day – these already cost several hundred francs a month and are not all covered by health insurance. There is also all the hospital treatment and the expensive care for his foot. Since my husband’s pension is barely enough for his own expenses, we live largely on the money that I earn with my own two hands.

For me, my family is the most important and valuable thing in life – at the same time it makes it very difficult for me. My daughter in Serbia is also sick. She has cancer and had to have her stomach removed. Sometimes my eldest son asks me for financial support. Unfortunately, I often have to reject him because most of the money goes into the care of my youngest son. I have a special connection with him. He says what I am thinking, and vice versa. Since I had to leave my first two children in Serbia, he receives all my time and attention. It breaks my heart that now he can hardly do anything alone. In the past he was always on the go. If I still have some money at the end of the month, we sometimes go to the pub in Zurich and share a jumbo schnitzel cordon bleu. I would also like to go on longer trips with him. My biggest dream would be to not only visit different doctors together, but to jump on the night train to Vienna or Milan.

Translated from German by Lisa Luginbuhl