Humans of New York@humansofny

New York City, one story at a time.

www.patreon.com/humansofnewyork

4,699 posts 8,403,389 followers 134 following

Humans of New York

“We’ve been together five years. I wanted a marriage, a family, the whole thing. But he wasn’t ready for a child. So I think he was hoping I’d end the pregnancy. He claims I took control of his life by keeping the baby. He’s not the type of person to abandon his child, so he thinks I forced his hand. At first it seemed like he was going to make the most of it. He told all his friends about the pregnancy. He took me out to eat. We had a little vacation. But that changed quickly. There was no stomach rubbing. No asking how I felt. He started going out a lot, and stopped kissing me goodbye. Our son is seventeen months now. We still live under the same roof, but that’s about it. There’s no physical intimacy. Very little communication. He’s always great with our son. They play together and have a great time. But there’s no ‘three of us.’ We never go anywhere together. Or if we do, the conversation is awkward and surface level. I try talking to him. I tell him: ‘If you hate me or resent me, just let me know.’ But he says: ‘Quit forcing things. Let it become what it’s going to be.’ But it’s been eighteen months and it hasn’t become anything. He never wants to talk about our relationship. I know that I should leave him, but I just don’t have the courage. I keep hoping something will change. Because I always wanted the experience of raising a child together.”


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“He was the RA in my freshman dorm. His nickname was ‘Rock.’ He was blonde and skinny and made legendary mix tapes for the dance parties. We never talked much in college, but we became good friends when we reconnected at a reunion. The event was eighties themed. There were a lot of Talking Heads cover songs, and we danced all night. After that we started talking every day. Even though we live on different coasts, we’d find different ways to connect. He’d create scavenger hunts for me. He’d send me on missions to find obscure books and records. And we began making mix tapes together. Both of us come from research backgrounds, so we take our mix tapes very seriously. MMTR is our acronym for the meaning of music: ‘Magic, Meditation, Therapy, Reunion.’ So there’s a lot of MMTR mix tapes: ‘MMTR I,’ ‘MMTR II,’ ‘MMTR III,’ ‘MMTR 80’s,’ ‘MMTR 90’s.’ Then there’s ‘Clan McJangle,’ which is nothing but Scottish Pop. Then we’ve got another called ‘Buzz Gems,’ which is nothing but guitar songs under three minutes that alternate decades as you go down the playlist. Our mix tapes hold us together. Lately we’ve been working on a business together. And if we ever get too frustrated, we just put on our headphones, choose a mix tape, and hit play at the exact same time.”


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“I sold phone covers back in Ghana, but it wasn’t going anywhere. So I came to South Africa to see if I could change my life. I tried to switch over to the clothing business. I knew how to sew, so I decided to give it a shot. But things are even worse than before. I can stand here all day and not get a single customer. I’ve been at it for three years, and I don’t even know why I’m still making an effort. I should have a wife by now. And a house. And kids. But I have nothing. How can I meet someone when I can’t even provide for myself? Recently I fell in love with a woman. She sells food around here. We used to talk every day and night. We bathed together, and slept together, and prayed together. She’d give me smiles and kisses. I didn’t have much, but I gave her what little I had. For once I was finally happy. Then she came over to my house one evening, and saw that I didn’t have anything. No radio. No television. Nothing. And she pretended like everything was OK. She acted like it didn’t bother her. But two weeks later she broke off contact. She never said it was because I don’t have money. But it’s because I don’t have money. Sometimes I think I should just kill myself.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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“I used to work as a producer at a media company. It was one of those cultures where you worked until you had nothing left to give. My boss’s voice would be the first thing I heard every morning. He’d phone me at 5 AM, asking ‘Have you done this? Have you followed up with that?’ He’d put me down. He’d shout at me during meetings. I can tell you the exact type of tile in the office because I spent so much time looking down. And I wasn’t allowed to grow. I wasn’t allowed to do anything on the creative side. I could only handle the budgets. Once I asked him if I could leave early one day to take a course in art direction, and he said: ‘What makes you think you could succeed at something like that?’ That’s when I finally quit. I freelanced for a while. And the more distance I got from the job, the more I realized that I’d allowed myself to be pigeonholed. I wanted to do something creative. I started trying to save money to attend the New York Film Academy, but it was so expensive that I decided to put all that money into gear instead. And for the past couple months, I’ve been making short documentaries about people. I’ve made about twenty of them so far. I let the person use the video however they’d like. I’m not sure what will come of it, and I’ve only got a couple months of savings left, but for the first time in my life I feel like I’m using all of my talents. And I’ve never had this much fun.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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“My first job in film was as a trainee on a feature. I think it was called ‘Gums and Noses.’ I cleaned the toilet, swept, made tea— things like that. All I ever got was money for transportation, which was fine for me. I just wanted to be on a film set. But with two weeks left of filming, there was a bit of a disaster in the camera department. A trainee blew up an HD monitor by plugging it into the wrong hole. Which was a shame, but it was great for me because I always wanted to be a cinematographer. When I heard them say they needed a replacement, I raised my hand and said: ‘Me, me, me!’ So that’s how it started. And it never stopped. The camera department can be a weird place. It’s all white and male. And it’s a bit like boot camp. A lot of the guys are mean. They don’t like being approached by subordinates. And if you make a mistake, they’ll scream at you. A lot of the guys act like they’re curing cancer instead of making beautiful pictures. But I had thick skin. So I moved up quickly. Recently I DP’ed one of the most popular shows in South Africa. And I run my department a little differently. It’s much more chill. I think we should all share our knowledge. Nobody should be afraid to make mistakes or feel embarrassed to ask questions. And one trainee should always be a girl. It doesn’t matter if she’s studied or not, as long as she’s keen.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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“I grew up thinking that it was a good thing to rob the white man. Everyone fought injustice in their own way. But in my neighborhood, we opposed the government by breaking into houses and robbing people. But in 1994 we were told: ‘Democracy is coming. Apartheid is ending. It’s time to learn a trade.’ So I listened. I did everything I was supposed to do. I’ve worked in construction for the past twenty-five years. I started my own company. I followed all the procedures. But nothing has come of it. The government always talks about empowerment. They make a big show of letting small businesses compete for contracts. But the jobs always get awarded to the same few people. If the government gave me work, it would empower me. Then I could empower other people. I could hire employees and teach them plumbing, and carpentry, and cabinets. I could purchase a brick making machine, and hire women to mix cement. But right now I can’t even afford a printer for my office. Everything is hand to mouth. I had high hopes when apartheid ended. But I’ve been building houses for twenty-five years, and I’m still living in a shack.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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“My dad moved us from Congo when I was a teenager. I wasn’t given a choice in the matter. I didn’t know anyone. I couldn’t speak English. And for a while I had an identity crisis. I felt like my skin was too dark and my build was too muscular. Other kids were telling me that I looked like a boy. I got bullied a lot. I didn’t have any friends. I began to feel depressed. Then one weekend I got invited to a party at a boy’s house. I was excited to go. But when I got there, it was nothing but drunk people. Everyone was passing around a joint. And when it got to me, the boy said: ‘Trust me, you’ll love it.’ So I tried it. And I did love it. Next thing you know, I was going out every weekend. I started drinking heavily. I was high all the time. My grades began to drop. But I was also getting cooler. I was never alone anymore. I was hanging out with popular people. We all hyped each other up, so it was easy to ignore the consequences of our behavior. But whenever I was alone again, I felt like I didn’t know myself anymore. I was heading down the wrong path. That’s not how I was brought up. So I had to get conscious. I had to be honest about what brings me happiness: writing poetry, reading books, and sometimes being alone. I backed away from the party lifestyle. I became more selfish with my time. The other night I ran into a few of my old friends, and they were a little mad because I hadn’t been around. They said I was acting like I was above it all. But that’s not the case. I’m just at a different stage of my life.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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“I’m studying human rights. It’s a long way off, but one day I’d like to be a lawyer and protect vulnerable populations in Africa. My mother is African but I grew up in France. In high school I went on a humanitarian mission to provide health and education for a village in Senegal. There was no water. There was no electricity. We visited a small orphanage where the children had to beg for their food every day. They had no choice, because if they came back with nothing, they didn’t eat. I cried myself to sleep that night. And when I returned to France, I felt guilty for everything: for living where I live, for having a family, for growing up in a rich country with education and healthcare. I didn’t tell many people about my experience. I didn’t want it to seem like a trophy. And I was aware of the irony because France colonized Senegal. But that trip opened my eyes to the opportunities I’d been taking for granted. It made me appreciate the choices that I have in life. And since those choices are a privilege, I want to use them to help other people.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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“I started bodybuilding after my chemotherapy. At first it was just a way to get healthy again. But I discovered I was good at it. I started winning competitions. And I got hooked. My boyfriend didn’t like it. He thought it made me less desirable. But the worse our relationship got, the more I focused on working out. It just felt so great to be recognized for something. I was really, really good at it. And the bodybuilding community is so great. They’re some of the least judgmental people because they’re used to being judged all the time. For the first few years I was really self-conscious about my body. But I’ve gotten to the point where the small comments don’t really bother me anymore: ‘ew,’ gross,’ ‘disgusting’-- things like that. I can usually block people out if they can’t type more than a sentence. But occasionally the criticism sinks in. It still hurts when people question my gender. Or my sexuality. And I’ve had some awkward Tinder dates. The last guy said: ‘Holy fuck, you’re bigger than I thought you’d be.’ But despite all this, I’ve gotten comfortable in my own skin. I actually feel more feminine now than I did growing up. I was always skinny. I never had breasts. I didn’t ever feel like a natural woman. But what is natural? Is make-up natural? Or botox? Or fillers? Or breast implants? All of us are flawed. My mask might be different than other people, but we all hide behind something. I just hide behind my muscles.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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Humans of New York

“My dream is to create an incubator of sorts. It can be difficult for start-ups to get funding in South Africa, so I’m trying to build a platform that connects investors and entrepreneurs. I’ve been working on it full time for about a year now. But the idea hasn’t taken off as quickly as I’d hoped. Don’t get me wrong-- I’m still on the grind. I’m still having meetings and trying to put together deals. I’m telling myself that no matter what, I’m going to figure this out. But if I’m being absolutely honest with you, it’s not looking promising. I’ve got about two or three months of runway left. The bank has been calling me every day because of the credit card. And my car just broke down, which will probably eat up twenty percent of my remaining reserves. My options are running out. It’s a lot of pressure, but I’m trying to focus on the bright side. I made it a whole year. We built the initial platform and had a few users. And I’ve moved forward as a person. I’ve gained a lot of new insights. I’ve grown my network. Experienced people have told me that I’m working on an important problem. And that validation means more than money. So even if this particular business fails, I’ll try again. But next time I’ll come back at a better angle.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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“The crime around here is out of control. It’s not even safe to walk down the street. People are snatching bags and phones in broad daylight. And it’s even more dangerous when the sun goes down. It’s bad for business. Our customers are being scared away. The police aren’t doing anything, so we’re forced to take matters into our own hands. Recently one of my customers had his car broken into. While I was repairing his shoe, we heard glass shatter. And we saw three guys running away with his laptop computer. I chased one of them down, caught him by the shirt, and began to beat him. I made him call his brothers and tell them he was about to be killed. Sure enough, they brought back the laptop. So I let him go. But the police came to my store the next day, and told me that I shouldn’t have taken matters into my own hands. They said next time I’d go to jail. But what am I supposed to do? Let my customers be robbed? Soon we won’t have any customers left. If police aren’t willing to stop the crime, we must do it ourselves.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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(2/2) “Mom tried her best to pay for flight school, but we kept running out of money. I’d have to drop out for a few weeks, and since flying involves so much muscle memory, it would take me a while to get back on track. So one day I bought a stack of magazines and newspapers. I went through every page and cut out the advertisements. Then I opened my pantry and wrote down every brand I could find. I sent all of them letters, asking for help. Almost everyone said ‘no.’ But I did receive an amount from a grocery store called Pick-n-Pay. And Breitling sent me a brand new watch to raffle. That was a huge break. I sold six hundred raffle tickets. Things were going so well. African Pilot Magazine promoted the raffle for free. A man from Australia bought 100 tickets. But then I got a letter from the Lottery Board ordering me to end my raffle. They said it was illegal. I tried to explain that I was raising money for my education, but they didn’t care. I was so disappointed. I’d have to sit out another year of flight school. But when I called everyone to explain the situation, nobody would accept their money back. They told me to keep it! It was enough to keep me in the air for months. Then around Christmas that year, one of my mentors invited me to eat lunch at the airport. When I stepped out of the car, everyone who had ever helped me was there. They all started clapping. And somebody handed me the phone. A person on the other end said: ‘You’re live on 94.7, and we’re going to pay for your entire education!’ That was nearly four years ago. I just got my license last week. My plan is to fly for South African Airlines, but first I want to do some teaching. I want to visit schools in black neighborhoods. I want all the kids to see what an African female pilot looks like.” (Johannesburg, South Africa)


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