Day 229 - Zuzu

Day 229 - Zuzu (3rd person I approached)
August 17, 2014 - An interesting observation for me this morning. I wanted to get out early and meet a stranger, get caught up with some other obligations I have and then ‘take the evening off’ so to speak. The first person I approached was doing some community gardening. I’ll be honest, I’ve been scouting community gardens when I pass them. I want to find out the story of someone who gardens in that type of situation. Denise wasn’t able to chat as she needed to get on with her day. It will happen. Then I saw a gentleman around that I’ve wanted to speak with for a while. I know of him, but I’ve never met him. In my loosely constructed, self imposed rules of engagement for this project, he qualifies as a ‘stranger.’  He’s known locally as ‘Opera Man.’ He suggested perhaps he’d chat with me another day, when I asked him today. I’ll leave it at that. Then I met Zuzu. My observation was that sometimes I have a tendency to focus on what I think will be the most interesting thing, in general, and perhaps I miss the wonder in the things I might then subsequently overlook.


When I approached Zuzu, he listened to everything I had to say without speaking a word. He gave me a thumbs-up signal when I got to the ‘Will you chat with me’ part. I showed him my Facebook page and some of the photo’s of others I’ve spoken with to indicate that I’d want to take his picture. Again, I got a clear but silent thumbs-up. For a moment or two I wondered if this was going to be my first non-verbal chat with a stranger, or perhaps a complete ‘yes’ or ‘no’ head nodding one. I’m up for the challenge. Turns out Zuzu can speak.

“I made the name up. It’s loosely based on a character in a movie (not that holiday one either). The main character was quite spun-out and scattered but she was free. She did her own thing. I made the name Zuzu to represent freedom. That’s what it means to me,” he said. He spoke with a loud, projected voice.


Born and raised in Surrey, BC (British Columbia), Zuzu refers to growing up there as

“the tough way to do it. My sister is four years older than I am. She basically raised me. My parents were either at work, or at home doing drugs. We looked after each other,” he said.

“I went to school, but found it boring. I sailed through, and passed everything okay, but it just didn’t appeal to me,” he said.

“My parents stayed together until I was twelve years old. I came home from school one day and was watching cartoons. My Dad and my Uncle got into a fight and my uncle basically tried to kill my father with a crowbar. That was devastating and tore the family apart. Social Services came in and we got passed around between different family members. It was odd because seemingly social services thought it was better that we be passed around from home to home rather than be at home with our mother or father. Admittedly they weren’t in the best place either, but we were coping okay. I went back and lived with my mother until I was fourteen,” said Zuzu. He decided he wanted to live with his father.

“That went ok, and I stayed there until I was seventeen. I was going to school and working part-time in construction. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I went from a basic labourer cleaning the job sites and hauling stuff around, eventually learning to become a framer. I left living with my father when he started getting into (crystal) meth. I couldn’t handle that any more. The family of a friend I had from school took me in and I lived with them for six years.” At around the same time, at the age of seventeen, Zuzu started to express himself through his clothing and hair. When I asked what his motivation was, he replied

“LSD 25.” (*Fact Check - see link below.)


Zuzu graduated about a year after completing high school.

“I had a couple of things I had to finish and of course, I never really applied myself. I did get it finished though and graduated,” he said. He continued working and doing what he could to help and support the family of his school friend that had taken him in. Everything changed again when he turned twenty-one.

“My mother passed away on my twenty-first birthday from lung cancer and amassed brain tumours. I didn’t see her that day. It was like I retired and withdrew. I stopped working and basically became a hermit for six months, rarely leaving the house and doing lots of drugs. I was in a deep depression. I got sick and had to be admitted to hospital. I was essentially poisoning myself with drugs,” he said. 


Zuzu is twenty six now and still making his way through the emotional turmoil.

“I have a temporary live-work studio that I’m staying in right now, in the Downtown Eastside (DTES - the poorest neighbourhood in Canada). Last year I was homeless, by choice, for the better part of the year. I found it to be freeing, actually,” he said.

“I was getting social assistance for a while, but now I do what I can to get by. I like to barter for things. For the most part I’m clean from drugs now. The way I see it is, do I do drugs that make me feel scattered and disorganized while I’m already living in a somewhat chaotic situation? They would only serve to enhance that. My thought process is I’m somewhat in control right now. Do I think I can use drugs recreationally? I don’t know. But if I were to use, I think being in a peaceful, relaxed and comfortable home environment, feeling spiritually and emotionally well, would likely be a better state than where I’m at today,” he said, with clarity.


His manner was softer now. He was very gentle and introspective.

“I have a lot of anger and anger issues that I’m trying to work through. Whenever anything happens or goes wrong, anger is the first emotion that I go to. I think it stems from the time my uncle tried to beat my father. That’s when things really changed for us. My parents absolutely did what they could to look after us. I was spoiled rotten and I knew I was loved as a child. They had their own issues, but did the best they could. My mother loved me, but do I know her favourite colour, or what time of day she liked the most? No. My father has pretty much gotten himself cleaned up now after doing meth for years. He’s a wonderful grandfather to my sister's kids. What’s next for me? I really don’t know.” #notastranger

*Fact Check -