About a week ago, I was walking around the Tenderloin Community during my lunch hour as usual. Suddenly, this guy approached me and asked “You Habesha?” I said, “yes” after I understood what he meant, because it was very difficult to understand him. We began talking and soon enough I found out that he had a very difficult time talking clearly. He reminded of Moses from the Bible who stuttered. Immediately we started to get to know each other although I was very difficult for me to understand him. He asked me if I spoke Amharic and I told him that I don’t but I do speak Tigrinya. My Amharic is so limited that I figured that English was the best way to communicate with Bereket. I told Bereket about my family and a little about myself and once I asked him about his family, he got emotional, sad and started walking away. After lowering his voice and his head, he walked a few steps and sat down. I asked him what was wrong and he said that he had not seen his family for over twenty years. He called his mother “mama” and I was able to see it in his face and body language that he misses her very much. Bereket was born and raised in Ethiopia and then he went to Kenya as a refugee. He then came here to San Francisco. He used to work at a gas station in the Tenderloin Community. Unfortunately, alcohol took hold of his life and it made him lose connection with his family and threw him on the street. I asked him if he might know where they are in Ethiopia, but he said that he has no idea.
It saddened me to hear his story. I can’t imagine living on this earth and not having even one connection with a family member. I told him that he might find them one day because we live in a small world but if not, you will see them in heaven. He nodded his head and said, “I believe in God.” After our conversation, he told me that he is about to leave, but I asked him if we could go eat lunch together. He consented and we went walking on our way to get something to eat. On our way, he asked a few people for cigarettes and they offered him some. I noticed that he gets his cigarettes by asking people he sees as he is walking around. We went into Carl’s Jr. and we ordered food. I asked him if he wanted to eat inside but he refused. I can see in his face that he did not feel comfortable eating inside probably due to the way people may look at him. After we grabbed our food, he was about to leave but I asked him if we could eat together outside. We went on the corner of Carl’s Jr. and sat down. I asked if we could pray before we eat and he bowed his head and we prayed before we ate. It was a great joy to eat lunch with Bereket and then we went to my work together to show him where he can find me. I told him that I am at the office four times a week and I was looking forward to hang out with him during my lunch hours. I walked with him for about a block and said bye and he was very thankful and assured me that he will come by the office.
That day, I really needed to reflect on what happened because there was just so much in my head. It was so depressing to hear that he does not have any type of connection with his family. Addiction is one of the greatest evils in this world that destroys thousands and thousands of lives. I am mostly concerned about Bereket’s future. I know that what has happened in his past can’t change and it is something to learn from, however, how about the future? Are there rehab programs in the Tenderloin community that can restore these people’s lives or are they just left alone? It’s just hard for me to see all these people doing the same thing over and over again and they are not being cured from their addiction and hurt. Maybe there are opportunities out there and they are not taking advantage of it. Whatever it is, there are a lot of people out there going through a lot of hurt and I see it every day. I deeply feel that their issues are my issues, their struggles my struggles, their joy my joy, and their future my future. It’s hard for me to watch these cycles of addiction. The connections and relationships I have built with the homeless in the Tenderloin community makes me feel like when Ruth said to Naomi, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).