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Posts Tagged ‘activism’

Yab with all of his belongings (photo: Reed)

Today is my brother’s 39th birthday! Happy birthday Ryan. He has helped me in so many ways with my Year of Giving; from suggesting that I start on the anniversary of my mother’s passing to countless hours of computer and camera support to reading every blog post and pointing out mispelled words that I missed. He has been there with me the entire journey. Thanks LB! I love you.

Often times when I speak to someone about the Year of Giving and the conversation turns to the homeless people who I have given to people assume that they use the money for alcohol or drugs.  Of course that has happened.  However, sometimes you would be surprised what a homeless person does when they are offered $10.  I was certainly surprised with Yab’s response.

On this particular day I was walking along 23rd Street near Rock Creek Park in northwest DC.  I saw Yab lying on some cardboard on the side of the road.  He was sleeping.  I took a chance and went over and spoke to him.  He took a second to wake up and I introduced myself.  I explained what I was doing and we started talking.

Yab hasn’t shaved since 1997 (photo: Reed)

Originally from Ethiopia, Yab told me an amazing story about his life.  He patiently invited me back to the year 1943 when he was seven years old living in Ethiopia.  It was July, the cold season, when one morning he volunteered to take some of his family’s cattle up the mountain to graze.  When he got to the top of the mountain, he came across a man standing outside a cave.  “There’s a hyena inside there” the man told young Yab.  He walked cautiously over to the entrance of the cave and peered inside.  Sure enough, there was a massive hyena lying inside.  The man suggested that they build a fire to drive the hyena out.  Yab started to gather sticks and small logs to build the fire and the man came close to Yab and touched his arm and out of nowhere the wood caught fire and the hyena fled the cave.  It wasn’t until 50 years later on President Clinton’s inauguration day on January 20th, 1993 that he realized who that man was.  “I didn’t know it then, but that was God there with me.”  Ever since this realization he has lived a deeply spiritual life.  He shares his message asking everyone to accept Jesus into their life in this short clip.

So how did Yab get to the US from that mountainside in Ethiopia?  Well, in the 1980s Yab was in Somalia working on some oil ventures when he was captured and taken hostage by terrorists who were against the country’s leader Siad Barre, who was later overthrown in 1991.  When the UN and the Red Cross got involved he asked for political asylum to the United States.  Since he had lived in the US briefly in 1958 he was given priority and offered asylum in Minnesota.  He said he didn’t really want to go to Minnesota but they promised him free housing, free education, food, a Pell Grant, etc.  However, when he arrived, he said that the assistance only lasted for about a month and then he was asked to leave the Mayflower Church where he was staying and told that he would have to go. 

He eventually got them to give him $1,600 and a ticket to Washington, DC where he even got to meet with then Mayor Marion Barry before Barry went to prison in 1991.

Later that year Yab became homeless and has been so ever since.

The former electrical engineer now carries signs around with him with messages on them that definitely make you look twice.  I asked him to explain some of the signs; most of which seemed too bizarre to be true.  One said:

Monster Obama must stop cuttin’ human throats at the expense of:

1. Dupont Circle chess players 

2. Oprah Winfrey – Arsenio Hall – Horton – Barry   

3. Odinga PM of Kenya.

One of Yab’s signs (photo: Reed)

Probably the most extreme thing he shared with me was that he believed that President Obama was with the CIA and tried to kill him when he was in the concentration camp in Somalia.  “I know it was him, I saw him.”  I tried to understand his thoughts and messages but it was difficult to follow his logic.  It reminded me a little bit of John from Day 121.  Both men are extremely nice.  Both have turned to signs to spread their message.  And I think both are greatly misunderstood because their choice of messages.

photo: Reed

I finally asked the bearded 74-year-old what he planned to do with the $10.  Would you believe that he gave it back to me and said that he wanted me to have it.  He said that he hasn’t accepted money from anyone since he became homeless in 1991.  “God will take care of me,” he assured me.  I tried to convince him to keep it or give it to someone else, but he said he wanted me to have it.  Faith and dignity are strong stubborn things. 

I’ve walked by that place several times since I met Yab but haven’t seen him again.

Update 12/Oct/2010

I ran into Yab on the streets of DC today.  He was doing well, seemed in good health and good spirits.  He recognized me and remembered our conversation well.  Pushing a cart full of personal items, he was walking south on Columbia Rd. toward Dupont.

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