WILLY // REC 121223_00004
Willy is from Belgium, he has a family there: a wife and two sons. He used to have a good job and now there he would be receiving his retirement fund, but he doesn’t like to mention
this, he prefers talking about his friends, no matter real or imaginary . We meet him in a Church in Prati, a neighborhood in Rome. It’s Thursday, the pipe organ is playing the last song of 7pm mass. Willy finally turns towards us, and motions for us to follow him outside.
It’s been 28 years I’m in Rome, under a bridge, or there, or wherever and I pray 6 hours per day. I take care of myself. No one goes to church … No one … They are all sinners, they take drugs, they drink and eat too much.
And the next day they have stomach aches, but they keep on drinking. I know some people who eat and get drunk three times a day . Each morning I get up at 5am, at 6 I’m in the church ’til 8.30 . Then from 9.30 to 10.30 I’m in St Peter’s Square .
At the beginning I wasn’t sick, then after a few years here the diabetes started, then I made money with the paper. I used to collect cardboard, paper, books, I had a huge cart. I used to earn 8 euros per day.
Then the price of paper went down and I moved to the Porta Portese Market. Aluminum, paper, cardboard, it was almost 70 euros a week. I had enough to live and I was sleeping outdoors. Throughout those 5 years I gathered some money. 5 euros for food, 5 in my pocket, and after a few years I had gathered 5 million.
They came during the night, it was two of them, they stole all my money. Holy Shit! Money is the root of evil. It is better to receive something to eat, rather than money. Now I found someone who’s giving me money, I also got to know some folks who tell me “dude, my friend”. A guy says some nice words to me, but it’s the same guy who used to steal whenever he went to church. Do you get how bad this is?!
Now I’ve got diabetes, I’ve got heart pain, I have a salt-free diet, no oil, no fish, no cheese. Just vegetables, no seasoning. Only vegetables and bread. I used to have this Spanish friend who used to tell me we could have made money, then he started drinking. A few years later he got the diabetes too, but he kept on drinking and he died.
He couldn’t stop. They took out one of his kidneys, but still, he wasn’t brave enough to stop. He’s dead. He had to clean his kidney more often. Now I sleep in Via Gregorio VII, right before the two bridges, near via Aurelia there’s an abandoned house: there I found a shelter where I can cook. There’s other people with me. Two other guys, a Czech and a Polish one. They’re beggars and they sleep at the Hospital called Santo Spirito, ’cause it’s warm in there. Here, you see this orange? The orange is good for a diabetic. Not the tangerine because it has too much sugar. When you eat enough oranges, maybe 2/r par jour, the vitamin level is good enough.
I’ve had many adventures. Once a guy from the RAI television came under the bridge and asked me and the others if he could shoot a movie. Can I make a video of you? He was smart and paid us money. We said yes. They shot this movie picturing us drunk and they sold it in France. One day, outside the church, a French man told me he saw me on TV. You can’t always expect the truth. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The first time I came here I had a French friend. They threw me out of here three times: first time because I was sleeping in the car, the second time I got mad at a Polish priest because I was in the car with a woman. With the French dude we didn’t come to Caritas (the charitable arm of the Italian Bishops Conference). The first time we came here we were working, we didn’t need anything else, we just come here to eat, nothing else. After twenty years together, we split because he didn’t go to church. He used to go to the church just to eat, to have clothes, to wash. I met him after twenty years on the Lungotevere Mellini, and I asked him why the hell was he there? He told me he couldn’t walk anymore, he started drinking again, he wasn’t eating. Then an ambulance took him to the hospital. I saw him there and I asked him ” is it going any better?” “They called my son to help me back to my country”. He was an atomic engineer who downgraded that much, living away from his family. Nowadays he’s back in France, thanks to the ER and to the people who helped him getting through it all. There’s another friend of mine who’s going to come with me to Belgium to work in a new congregation.
Why did you decide to go there in three months?
Because I need to talk to the Pope and I’m waiting for Him to give me permission to joining the new congregation. That’s why I need to stay. They told me I’m gonna eat with the Pope. Who told you that?
Who’s your boss?
God. I hope it happens in the new year. I’m almost sure about it. I’m gonna talk to the Pope. When? I’ve got no clue. Nobody believes me when I say I’m gonna talk to the Pope. I’m part of a congregation, this small group named “Small Soul Legion”, there’s thousands of us. France, Belgium, Holland. They’ve got a book of this woman who talked to God, her name is Margherita, but it’s a fake name, it’s a secret one. In this book it’s written to establish a congregation, the “Small Soul” congregation.
CLAUDIO // REC 121223_0002
Claudio is in his forties, he lives underneath the arch of a Roman aqueduct and works as a coachman. I met him the Sunday before Christmas, right after lunch, he’s lying on his sleeping bag, dozing before his walk downtown. He willingly agrees to be photographed and have a chat together.
We must accept this society. Then let’s just hope it will change. We’re at Mandrione (a neighborhood in Rome), I’m a 42 years old, as I told you before, I’m a body shop mechanic, but it’s not enough money. I get along living under the arch. The neighborhood folks accept my presence ’cause I’m good and I behave. It’s tough but there are worse things than this. I set everything up and I’m trying to feel good in my small environment. I work nearby, in the Quadraro, it’s been 26 years I’m working as a shop mechanic. I did well in the past, I used to earn 1,600/1,700 euros, I had an apartment, a studio apartment. Then this crisis started, because what’s going on is bad shit. They said that it would have been the end of the world. But in my opinion it’s not the “We’re all gonna die burned, flooded” kind of end, no… Poverty will lead us to slay each other, to kill for a few bucks. Robberies, threats, rapes, total decay. Do I have an euro? Then someone could shoot you in the head. Drugs, lot of people coming from abroad… We don’t have money at all, how is it possible to take care of them too? You go take a shower, maybe a bath in a hostel, in a community center, but there’s no place, not to sleep nor to eat. Then we fell into the habit of alcohol. And I could stand it pretty well, there’s people feeling worse. I’m living with a weekly salary of 160/170 euros. I’m lucky enough since my employer feeds me, and I can take the shower at his place. He loves me like a son, if I need 10 euros more he gives it to me. But often it happens that he has ten checks and they don’t allow him to cash them in, so can’t pay on time and he’s late with the wire transfer. What’s sure is that he always supports me with 50 euros. Now he pays me 100/200, sometimes 150, others 120 or 100. But I totally get it and I try to keep up. Because if I lose this job where else can I work? I feel safer this way. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. I accept who you are because you love me like a father. He cooks for me, prepares the lunch, he lends me clean clothes, allows me to shower. He tries to help me and he knows where I sleep. I do my best at work and that’s it.
ADIL // REC 121231_0029
We meet him for the first time in the dormitory in Trento, outside it’s really cold, when he gets to the floor where we are he still has his hood on, hands clenched in his pockets and earphones in his ears. He greets us kindly, he exudes great serenity. We can hear the music, it seems Arabic. He wants to think about the interview, he’s not sure about it, he leaves us his phone number. A few days later he agrees to be part of the project.
I was born in a country where you can’t always find a job. Yeah, we’re used to it. And we’re really religious. We believe in today, you eat and live today, then no one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. Here in Italy losing your job is like dying, since your life is based on labor. But I think it is not that way. I think you should commit to much more important things.
You can study, learn other crafts, try living abroad, somewhere else.
What music where you listening to, the other day when we met?
A beautiful music, Al-Azan di Imam E Kaaba. It’s real good music, listen: Allah hu Akbar Allah hu akbar (Allah is Great) allah hu akbar allah hu akbar (Allah is Great)
Ash Hadu allah ilaha ilallah … (I witness that there is no god besides Allah …) What’s my idea about life? In my opinion you need to think about the reason you are here. First of all, we’re here to love God, then to work if we get the chance to. But if that chance is missing, we need to live a quiet life. The key things I do during my day are: eating and loving God. That’s how I feel about life.
When you think about the future, how do you picture it?
The future, speaking of this life, is when you’ve got a house, a job, a family. This is a nice future.
When you think about the future, do you think of tomorrow or about what’s coming in 20 years?
Tomorrow. I live for the day. Who knows if tomorrow I’m gonna be dead or alive. We are like a pigeons for me: we think about
something to eat for the day, then once we wake up tomorrow, we’ll go looking for more food.
Did you ever sleep on the street?
Yes, I was looking for easy stuff, I wasn’t willing to accept whatever.
Can you actually manage to live in the street?
You can totally do it. Alcohol-free, drug-free, nothing. It is not living on the road that makes you a bum. It’s the other way around. You need to get along with the good and the bad stuff, today in the street, tomorrow in your own house. In life there’s evil, you have to face it.
What’s better: someone working 18 hours a day or a homeless person living on the street? Who has more freedom?
The one living on the street rather than the worker. That’s not life, I couldn’t stand it, it’s such a slavery. Speaking for my- self, I can’t do it. I prefer the street. More freedom, peace- ful, I do things I like and I feel comfortable in my heart.
Do you manage to read?
Yes, I’m always reading, when I’m not busy I go the the library and read.
Is there any Italian at the dormitory with you? Maybe someone who lost their job due to the crisis?
Yes, there’s some of them. But they’re weak. When they’re in the street, no job, no place to sleep, they suddenly become tramps.
But you need to be stronger than that, even with no home and jobless, you need to have a strong attitude. Be able to accept even the bad stuff going on. I think they’re used to having such a good life. Same thing where their religion is concerned. We probably have different thoughts, that’s it.
Do you have any advice for the Italians who are losing their jobs and giving up hope?
I could tell them that there isn’t any job…. they may want to go and seek a beautiful life somewhere else. It’s a matter of attitude, but if they feel like it, they can change it. But one must be acquainted with many things, one can’t live with just one idea on his mind. I’m not saying you need to become Muslim, that’s not the point, but one needs to widen his knowledge. The most important thing: getting to know more about your own god. In life you need to keep searching ’til you die. One needs to look further, you can’t expect things to be easy, no way, you need to fight for it. In Italy and abroad, that’s how it works all over the world.
What’s the best part of your day?
When I pray.
What do you feel?
I feel calm, happy, That’s my duty in life. The most important thing ever.
Do you have relatives here?
Yeah, I’ve got relatives, I’ve got friends. In Milan and Bergamo there are my uncles. . Every now and then I go to visit them. My best friend is a book. I believe in friendship, but you shouldn’t trust it.
Friendship means helping, changing, exchanging information. That’s it. You can help but you can’t give all you’ve got in friendship. Do you have people sleeping on the street in your country?
Yes, but not that much. My country is poorer than Italy, but there are fewer people sleeping on the street. Because life here is more expensive, it is tougher. In my country sleeping or eating is never a problem. The real problem is that there’s little money, but my country is better than here for living.
Where were you born?
Beni Mellal, Morocco.
What’s the last thing you think about before sleeping at night?
My last thought is for God. Always.
Are you scared of dying?
What is the death?
It is a mandatory thing. Everyone dies.
How do you see the world in 10 years?
I think that if people do not work, in 10 years it there will be poverty and crime.
So you don’t imagine a world without work …
It is hard, it would mean poverty and lots of problems, for this kind of people.. they aren’t able to accept a life without a job and no money. Some people go crazy, they turn into bums. It de- pends on the person. There’s people who can’t forget, and use alcohol and drugs to forget. But that’s not the solution .
We need to change ?
Of course you need to change. Perhaps it is difficult for them but a change is needed. You have to change the thinking, I can not tell you that you must change religion… Our prophet, as well as the Christian one, was very poor. All the prophets were poor. All the prophets lived a very hard life, from Adam to Muhammad. Poor lives with problems… and that is an example for us: life is hard, that’s it. The prophets , the messengers of God, God’s favorites lived a very hard life .
Do you know a prophet named Yusuf? That was in Egypt. He suffered so much . Do you know the Prophet Eyüp? What a story, such patience! He is the example of Patience. When something is rotten it produces worms. He had all his body covered in maggots. And he always thanked God. His wife wanted to get rid of the worms, but he said “Leave them”. He is the example of Patience.Yusuf too was a nice person, God says that there is not such a beautiful person as Yusuf , he is like a child…
Islam has now become a synonym for terrorism. They say all Muslims are terrorists. They say it in Europe, because they are afraid of Islam. I don’t know who is it that doesn’t like Islam… I think it is the attitude of the Americans, the Jews, because they have always spread false information about Islam. They want to drive people away from Islam. And they do that by saying that Muslims are terrorists, murderers. But it is not true. It is not true.
The first thing in this life is obedience to God. This is much more important than work , than everything else. This is the basis. The most important word. Do you understand? Perhaps in this nation, right now, the world forgot about it. But if you forget about it, then you lose everything. Our duty in this life is to be obedient. For me and for everyone else… the Muslims, the ones who are real believers will tell you that. The Christians too. But now we’re becoming machines, we think just about eating and working, that’s it. A person without the thought of God is like a robot. Life doesn’t make sense like that, it has no taste. I’m 100% … 1,000% sure. If someone lives this way they have no taste for life. You need to feel God, not to see him, you need to feel Him in your heart. You say you’re cold, but do you see the cold? You feel it. God is like that, you can’t see him, you need to feel him. It’s part of your experience, you need to reach that point. If you don’t get there, you’re always at the starting point.
I love the whole world, and it is God’s world, not mine. He created everything. And I’m patient, waiting for him to knock on my door, I’m expecting great things from life even when life makes you suffer. But God doesn’t want bad stuff for us, just nice and good things.
ALESSANDRO // REC 121230_0009
We meet Alessandro at the Caritas, we’re both asking for information at the center. We need stuff for our project, he needs accommodation. A little way away from us, an operator provides him with a paper with meal times and the main rules for the facility. Then Alessandro stops in the square, we get closer and he starts telling us about his story.
He will probably have to leave his place soon. Maria, his daughter, is pregnant. She’s a biologist but she can’t afford a house because her salary is too low, that’s why Alessandro is leaving the apartment to her. I’m old, they deserve to feel good and they must go ahead, it’s their turn. Here is not that bad. I’ve got a friend, Giuseppe, who’s been here for quite a lot. If you follow the rules, you’re on time, you shave and you wash, they willingly provide you with a warm meal.