Apropos vendor Friday Akpan: “I’m living life day by day”

By Josef Bruckmoser, Apropos

The first time I met Friday was, by chance, on a Friday in Getreidegasse, the street in Salzburg where Mozart was born. He was standing with a handful of street papers by the Schatz-Durchhaus, a passageway between Getreidegasse and University Square. It was a good spot, with lots of footfall in addition to regular customers keen to buy the new issue of Apropos. The amount of human contact is the best thing. “I can use my German,” says Friday, who is a migrant from Nigeria. He arrived in Austria from Italy on 15 September 2014.

Friday first started selling papers on Linzergasse in 2015. It’s a date that the young man remembers well. He was thrilled to be accepted as an Apropos vendor; it resolved the pressing question of what he might do and where he might work. Working as a vendor of the Salzburg street paper got the ball rolling towards Friday’s eventual acceptance as an asylum seeker. He used to sell Apropos on the Platzl (a small square at the intersection of different areas of the town including Getreidegasse and Linzergasse) and his friendly, open demeanour while working was noticed by those running the Hotel Stein. It was in that hotel that Friday found his first proper job; he worked there from February 2018 to June 2019. With that, his journey through Austria – which had also taken him to Bischofshofen and Hallein – came to an end. Friday was now a Salzburger through and through.

“To begin with I didn’t know any black people who sold papers in Salzburg. But now I am friends with a few,” the native Nigerian explains. He is fresh from the hairdresser’s; he wanted to be smart for this interview and photoshoot. Appearances and the right clothes are important to this young man. For our second interview, Friday welcomes us to his well-kept home in the Herrnau district (in the south of the city). There are dumbbells ready to be used on the floor of the small two-roomed apartment. He makes regular visits to the gym as well.

“If the paper is three euros and someone pays with a five euro note, they always get the two euros change. That way, the business side is taken care of. They often give me back the two euros as a tip. But that’s another matter.”

As well as having colleagues at Apropos, Friday has found a new home with two African communities in Salzburg. One of them meets on a football pitch for a Championship of Africa tournament. The competitors wear a really colourful kit. The actual origins of a particular player are immaterial. Of course, as a Nigerian, Friday would rather play with other Nigerians. But his gold medal, which is proudly on show in his living room, was won playing for Gambia. “I played for Gambia, because if I hadn’t, they wouldn’t have had a full team,” he grins.

The other community to which he belongs is the Last Minute Grace Ministry, which meets on Sunday for a church service. Friday was supported by this Christian organisation during his first few years in Salzburg, and he now feels a strong tie to the two or three dozen people who worship there. He is heartily convinced that God saved him and believes that things would not have turned out so well for him here in Austria were it not for his faith. Take for example his Austrian passport, of which he is very proud; it’s valid for five years with asylum status and grants him permission to travel anywhere in the world except Nigeria. There will be no going back to Nigeria for Friday, who is now an adherent of Kingian Nonviolence, a philosophy of nonviolent conflict resolution that follows the example of Martin Luther King.

Friday Akpan thinks getting a job as a seller of Apropos was fate. Credit: Foto Flausen.

Thanks to his passport, E-card (which grants him access to Austrian health and social security), Austrian rail discount card, and the bus-ticket he uses to get to work, Friday is well equipped for day-to-day life in Austria. One of his most treasured documents is his statement of asylum status. But Friday Sunday Akpan (such is his full name) did not only leave his native country behind when he left Nigeria: he left behind his parents; his two brothers, Toni and Bassi Sunday; and also his 14 year-old son. Even his most recent family members are not able to live with him in Austria. His youngest son was born in a hospital in Lyon, France – at the Femme Mère, Enfant– because his wife didn’t have an Austrian E-card. Since then, mother and child have remained in France. Friday sent 200 Euros to them for Christmas.

And that was only possible because he’s integrated himself so well into the world of work. Friday has secure employment with a metal construction company near Salzburg. “Most of the time, I get the bus to work at 6.25 am from the stop on Alpenstrassem,” he tells me. “I often work an hour’s overtime.” His boss holds him in high regard. At Christmas, he sent him a text with his best wishes (in English): “I wish you a life of milk and honey, joy, property, long life. Welcome to 2022; a year of no regret”.

“Life is all about give and take. If you are nice to people, then they will be nice to you.”

Friday’s work as an Apropos vendor enables him to pay for his rent and household expenses. But selling Apropos on the street is not just a means of earning a bit extra; he has a personal connection with his customers. This connection is often much stronger than a purely professional one, though Friday is most keen to keep selling apart from his private life. “I always give the exact change,” he stresses. “If the paper is three euros and someone pays with a five euro note, they always get the two euros change. That way, the business side is taken care of. They often give me back the two euros as a tip. But that’s another matter.”

How many copies are sold depends on the season. Summer’s a good time; you can sell 20 copies in a day. The best time of all is Christmas. People are generous at that time of year. Last year on the 22nd December, Friday sold 24 copies in one day, and as he told us, “people also gave very generous Christmas tips”. It was thanks to this generosity that he was able to send the gift of 200 Euros to his son in France.

“Life is all about give and take,” says Friday. It’s a philosophy that runs deep in African culture. “If you are nice to people, then they will be nice to you.” Since coming to Austria, it is recommendations from others that have helped him to progress and move forward: he is known to be a good man. His affable personality and readiness to help have been his trump cards in getting over the hurdles faced by someone with asylum status. He hopes to use these attributes in the future to ensure the right to remain for his youngest son.

“I’m living from day to day,” says Friday Sunday Akpan. “It’s got me this far, and it will take me even further.”

Translated from German by Louise Thomas

Courtesy of Apropos / International Network of Street Papers