they always come out of left field.
i lost another one of my friends today to addiciton. he wasnt much older than myself. losing africa hurts a lot. much more than i ever thought it would, but then again, i never pictured losing africa. for whatever reason i thought he would make it out alive.
i hate being wrong.
i met africa my first day on the job at first united. i was standing in the lobby talking with a new coworker when in walked a very tall, skinny african man wearing a giant hat with large sunglasses. he didnt walk so much as he stumbled into the building. as soon as he saw me, he stumbled over to shake my hand.
‘hi, im africa.’
his african accent and intoxication level made it difficult to understand him but i got the gist. this problem stayed the same for as long as i knew africa. the more he drank the thicker his accent got and the harder it was to understand him. sometimes he would lecture me for minutes on end, all the while i couldnt understand a single word he said.
africa’s name wasnt actually africa, but a nickname given to him by his friends in the downtown eastside. not very imaginative but pragmatism wins out in a world when remembering where you woke up isnt easy. the tall black man would forever be known as africa and he didnt seem to mind it one bit.
a nickname usually means acceptance and when you are thousands of miles from home, acceptance is just what you need.
africa’s friends got him drinking rubbing alcohol one day and he became hooked. addiction to rubby (as they called it) was not a pretty addiction. for me, its quite possibly the worse one to watch someone struggle with.
africa had an apartment somewhere in the dtes but he spent most days and nights hanging out or around first united. thats where his friends lived and hung out. this was the case for a few of the guys i knew in the dtes. they would get a worker in housing to help them get an apartment in hopes of getting away from their addiction and the people they consumed their poison with. some lasted longer than others but, one by one, they all made their way back.
since i left vancouver ive lost 4 guys from just one group. since i joined the dtes community ive lost over 15 people. those are just the ones i can remember..
i hate losing my friends to addiction.
this doesnt seem get any easier..
when i decided to start giving my life to the poor years ago, i didnt think that id see this many people die. people who i had relationship with, a connection, a friendship.
i didnt sign up for this.
i invited africa to a small church in east van with me one summer sunday. the church was having a community party in the local park with live music, games for the kids and bbq. as soon as i told africa there would be food there he was coming come hell or high water. he marched there like a man on a mission. for as rail-thin skinny he was, the man could pack down the food. we could never explain where the food went.
a couple other guys came along as well. edson, one of my favorite guys to talk with at the shelter, came along with us as did aj (edson is now married and living in northern bc and doing great!). as soon as the music starts up africa is dancing. by himself. in a dance only he knew the steps to.
it was something else to see.
we laughed until our sides split. aj fell off his chair he was laughing so hard.
i like that memory.
just as quickly as i remember that memory, the reality that hes gone comes crashing back. my heart is grieved deeply..
in fyodor dostoevsky’s ‘crime and punishment ‘, he says something that gives me great comfort in times like this:
“the darker the night, the brighter the stars,
the deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
thankfully, this truth is more real to me than anything else i know.
ill miss you, africa.
harry and africa