On a sunny April Saturday, Abdoul Guiro stepped out of his building on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. He rents one room of a three-bedroom apartment in the three-story walk up.
Unlike many young men his age, who might be enjoying a lazy weekend with friends, the 22-year-old was heading to work. “I don’t really have time for friends,” he said as he walked to the subway. He works six, sometimes seven days a week. He holds two jobs, and carries much responsibility. He is soft-spoken yet affable, and walks confidently to the subway.
It is around 11 a.m. He has a shift for his minimum-wage job at a Washington Heights Domino’s Pizza starting at 2 p.m. He is already wearing his hat, and has a blue Domino’s vest in his black backpack. But before that, he has another task to complete.
The first stop in his workday is in the Mount Eden neighborhood of the Bronx. He used to live with his parents in the area, but they were forced out of the apartment. His father is suffering from kidney disease and needs dialysis three times a week. He can no longer work, so family income dried up.
“I don’t worry about myself too much.”
– Abdoul Guiro
His parents are staying in a shelter in Queens for now, and every so often, they ask him to collect the mail from their former apartment; he still has the mailbox key. Food stamps and Medicaid are keeping them alive.
Abdoul immigrated to the United States from Burkina Faso in early 2012, after receiving a visa. The landlocked West African nation is one of the world’s poorest and suffers from high unemployment and low life expectancy. Abdoul’s family is Muslim. His father has four wives, only one of whom moved to New York. While Abdoul’s biological mother is back in Africa, he treats all of his father’s wives like a mother.
To remember his family at home, Abdoul asked his biological mother to make him a necklace. It is a string with a few beads and an ivory-colored pendant. He wears it proudly. He also wears a silver ring on his right hand, with the letters GA. It was his father’s, and the two share the same initials.
After collecting the mail, he heads back to the subway to complete another job. Abdoul’s mother, the one in New York, is the only source of income for his parents. She sells jewelry from a stand on 125th Street in Harlem. Since his father cannot work, he joins her there to help out some of the time. They still have a van, which provides both transportation to Harlem and storage for their inventory,
After finding the jewelry stand, Abdoul respectfully greets his parents and hands over the mail. He reaches into his backpack and pulls out another gift—a package of generic fig cookies. His father seems grateful for the snack.
Although those cookies would seem inexpensive to most, the price was consequential for Abdoul. This week he estimates that he brought in about $150 from both of his jobs. His rent is $155 a week. He earns, he says, “just enough to pay rent and survive.” Fortunately, his landlord is sympathetic. Abdoul pays what he can, in $20 or $30 chunks when he has cash to spare.
When he has any money left over after rent and groceries, he gives it to his parents so they can buy food. “I don’t worry about myself too much,” he said.
Abdoul’s life wasn’t always like this. He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from a university in Burkina Faso. He was about to start a master’s degree in writing from a university in Ouagadougou, the nation’s capital, when his visa application was accepted. His father chose him over his 12 siblings to apply for a visa, and ultimately come to America, because he was the only one with an education.
In the U.S., Abdoul said he expected to give “a lot of help for my family. Go to school, find a good job.” When he arrived in New York, he took classes to learn English at a school in Midtown. It cost him $1,000 a semester. After his father fell ill, he was forced to drop out, due to cost and to his sense of responsibility. “I can’t go to school and see my father and my mom suffering like that,” he said
He said he keeps his Domino’s job to make sure he can eat lunch while working his other job. That position is with an office furniture company, where he helps out in the warehouse and sometimes goes on installation jobs.
The company, called PTI, pays better than Domino’s—up to $11 per hour. The hours are irregular, however, and some days there is no work. Abdoul is hopeful about this job and is trying to land a unionized position there with better pay. Until then, he will take as many hours at Domino’s as possible.
But if the hours and pay at PTI are good enough, Abdoul plans to resume his education. He is talking to a writing teacher from the New York Public Library, and he hopes to have enough free time this spring and summer to take a class. Someday, Abdoul dreams of becoming a published writer. He wants to write books that help the young people of the future with advice and perspectives from his own experiences. “Helping people is the best thing people can do,” he said.
After he says goodbye to his parents, Abdoul gets back on the subway, this time to go to work. He arrives at Domino’s a little early, but his manager is flexible and allowed him to start early. He delivers pizzas and handles other tasks around the store. Abdoul grabs his bike from the store’s cellar and chains it on a bike rack, ready to make a delivery.
About 15 or 20 minutes later, an order is ready to go. He loads it on his bike and speeds away smiling, happy to be at work.