Our vendors: John (Scarp de’ tenis, Milan, Italy)

By Matteo Laudiano, Scarp de’ tenis

The first thing you notice about John, even before he speaks, is his smile, and how he has a light in his eyes that has somehow survived the difficult times. In a low voice and a gentle tone, John recounts his story.

His full name is John Atanga Navrongo, and he was born in 1985. “I come from Navrongo, in the north of Ghana,” he says, indicating the area on a map. “There are many people in my village. My family is big, too – I have seven brothers.”

Photo by: Matteo Laudiano

Aged just 22, John was forced to leave his homeland because of political turmoil. An plane carried him to Libya, where he found work in relative peace. This was in 2007 – not an ideal time to stay in North Africa. Gaddafi was still in power; he would only fall in 2011. After only two months John had to leave again, this time for Italy.

This new voyage, by sea, was to be markedly less comfortable than the one he had just completed in Africa. John knew he was to risk his life. Accounts from friends who had made the journey before him left very little to the imagination, but he had no choice: airstrikes on Libya were becoming ever more frequent and it was no longer possible to remain.

He finally disembarked, safe and sound, in Sicily. From Catania he was redirected to Milan. It was October, and beginning to get cold. John found accommodation in Central Station, thanks to Piano Freddo, the council’s night-time assistance programme. He then began to move between various shelters, on Via Saponora and Via Novara and in the parish of San Carlo. He managed to survive by finding temporary jobs, such as washing dishes in a restaurant.

He subsequently encountered Scarp de’ tenis. “It changed my life,” he says, simply.

John’s life is here, now. He has no plans to return to Ghana. “My dream? My dream is to find a job as a gardener and send money home to my mother in Ghana,” he says. “I haven’t achieved it yet, but I will keep trying until it is possible.”

Currently, working as a Scarp vendor is his only employment. The job has helped him earn enough to fulfil another desire: that of speaking to his family again. Now, at least by telephone, they can stay in constant contact.

Translated from Italian by Eleanor Susan Lim.