Day 07 - Gus (2nd person I approached)
January 07, 2015 - Listening is becoming like a golden rule for me. Just stop, and listen. When I first approached Gus, he told me he was having a cigarette, then going to catch a train home. I told him about my project and asked if he would chat with me. He said yes, and then I showed him the Facebook page. He told me he wanted to talk, but didn’t want to have his picture taken.
“I don’t even use my picture on my own Facebook profile,” he said. “I have a picture of a car, instead.”
I explained that I like to have a photo of the person who I’ve chatted with, to go along with the story. And then I listened to Gus as he explained why he didn’t want his picture taken. What was interesting was how willing he was to come up with a way to make this work. Gus suggested,
“Perhaps you could take my picture and put a black bar across my eyes so no one will recognize me.” I asked how he would feel if I promised to alter the picture, instead of putting an identity bar across it.
“Sure,” he said. “I’m going to trust you.” And he did.
Gus was born east of Java, in Indonesia. He has one sister who is a few years older.
“My father died when I was eight years old,” he said. Gus made light of this at first. I said it must be rough to lose someone so important at such a young age.
“I felt sorry for my mother. After my father passed away, we had nothing. My mother sometimes would have to scrounge in the garbage on the street to find food. We were homeless for close to a year,” he said, choking back tears. I sat quietly and waited for him. Gus paced back and forth, turning his back toward me. I could sense his pain. He shuffled about for a minute or so.
“My mother is a strong and determined woman. It maybe took her a year, but she rebuilt our family. She told us ‘You can go hungry today and eat tomorrow, but you can learn every day’ and she always did her best for us,” he said, clearing his throat.
“I did quite well in school. So well in fact that some called me special. I didn’t think so, but I had good grades. I rebelled a bit against authority and I didn’t work that hard, but I managed to do well,” Gus said. A wealthy Canadian expat who also lived in the same area of Indonesia became a benefactor.
“We never met him. He gave financial support because of my grades, my mother was told. But he only ever paid for schooling, nothing else. He had made his fortune in Indonesia and wanted to help some local children. He paid for all of my education, right until I finished high-school,” he said. Gus told me that he referred to him as his ‘foster father’ as that was the term that best suited his role.
“He never married my mother, so he wasn’t my step-father. Foster father meant specifically that he supported my schooling, financially.”
When he finished high-school, Gus felt obligated to get a job, and contribute to supporting his family.
“I was the youngest, but I was the man of the house. I felt I needed to be working. I got a job as an ice-cream vendor,” he told me.
“I did that for two years. Suddenly, my foster father asked to meet with me,” Gus said. “I had not ever met this man and I didn’t know why he wanted to meet now.” The two met, and his foster father asked why Gus wasn’t going to college.
“He wondered why with my grades, I wasn’t going further with my education, and offered to pay. I felt I could never repay him and said thank you to him, but I declined his kind offer,” he said.
The foster father must have sensed the hesitation from Gus.
“My foster father explained to me why he liked to help children with their education. When he was a boy, someone helped him. He became a success because of his education, and someone else had paid for that. My foster father told me what I could do if I felt uncomfortable with someone paying for my education. I could work hard, become successful and pay it forward, just as he had done,” said Gus.
“He told me ‘If I help three children, then you should help five. Imagine if everyone did that, how different the world would be.’ Then he made me a challenge. He asked if I thought I could get into one of the top five colleges in Indonesia. I knew I could. He bet me that if I could, he would pay for it. I accepted his challenge,” said Gus.
“It wasn’t easy. There are many more applicants for very few places in college.” He was accepted for one of those few places.
“When I was getting on the bus, because college was far away in Jakarta, my mother said to me ‘There are two phrases that you must never forget. No matter what happens, these two will get you out of any trouble. They will always help you. Always remember them, and always use them.' The first phrase was ‘Thank you,’ and the second phrase was ‘I'm sorry.’ I never forgot her words,” said Gus, with a proud, wide smile breaking across his face.
During his three years in college, Gus studied English.
“I studied the classics, and literature, as well as linguistics,” he told me. Gus graduated with honours. After college, he started working for the Oxfam organization.
“I worked in marketing and publicity. Working to find sponsors, coordinating programs with other support organizations, all kinds of things. I did that for a few years,” he said.
“After working with Oxfam, I became a teacher. I worked with disadvantaged and impoverished children. The school was located in a part of town that many people wouldn’t want to go to. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to work with these children. I did that for five years and I loved every minute of it,” he said.
“I had established a friendship with my foster father over those years. He offered to help me get to Canada, to have a better life. I’ve been here now for eight years,” Gus said. Until recently, he had been working in the hospitality industry, in hotels.
“I just changed jobs in the last week, and now I’m going into retail. I finished one job and start my new one next week,” he said.
“Once that is sorted out, then I will be moving to another apartment, in another part of town.”
Gus explained why he didn’t feel comfortable with his picture being used for this story. He’s experiencing harassment issues with a couple of his neighbours, and feels unsafe in his home.
“I’m not sure why it started, exactly. One night during the summer I had some friends over and we were having some drinks and laughing and talking. The windows were wide open, it was a nice night. I guess they heard our conversation and didn’t like it, or don’t like me or my friends. But ever since then, I’ve been getting harassed. They accuse me of being a drug-dealer. These neighbours live on either side of my apartment. They make noises all night. I’ve been followed and my friends get harassed. It’s almost like it's organized,” he says, with frustration in his voice.
We talked about his situation at length. Gus has been to the police, but feels without any proof there is little he can do.
“I am going to move. I’ll have a new place by the end of this month. And a new job, and everything will be fine again," he said, nervously.
"Thank you for asking me to speak with you. I feel better even just having talked about this with you. And thank you for listening. I really appreciate that.” #notastranger