Serendipitous Encounter Transforms An African Immigrant's Life (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

Serendipitous Encounter Transforms An African Immigrant's Life

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
First, though, we'll hear about a man who was heading down a rather dark road until he crossed paths with a stranger who would change his life forever. The two men met here…

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:13
...on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Q Street in Northwest D.C. It was Sunday September 12, 2010, and that stranger...

MR. REED SANDRIDGE

00:00:21
I'm Reed Sandridge.

SHEIR

00:00:22
...was in the midst of a personal, philanthropic endeavor he called The Year of Giving.

SANDRIDGE

00:00:26
Which is a yearlong project that I gave away $10, while I was unemployed, every day to a different stranger.

SHEIR

00:00:33
And when did it start? When did it end?

SANDRIDGE

00:00:35
It started on December 15th of 2009 and then -- but then ended on the 14th of December of 2010.

SHEIR

00:00:43
I actually first met Reed on day 86 of his year of giving. You might remember a "Metro Connection" story that aired back in March of 2010. But the day we're talking about here occurred several months later so let's go back to that day. It was day number -- what, was it 250 something?

SANDRIDGE

00:00:58
258.

SHEIR

00:00:59
Okay. So it was day 258. How is it that you crossed paths here with David? David, of course...

MR. DAVID GER

00:01:05
I am David Ger.

SHEIR

00:01:06
...being that first guy I mentioned, the one who was heading down that dark road.

GER

00:01:09
I'm basically a Street Sense vendor who matched Reed over here to connect to Q.

SHEIR

00:01:15
David came to the U.S. from Kenya in 1997. And when he arrived, he dreamed of becoming a doctor.

GER

00:01:21
And I've done a few course work at Montgomery College and interned at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and I was on my way.

SHEIR

00:01:28
But things didn't quite pan out. He says he ran into problems since he wasn't a citizen. Things spiraled downward and eventually he found himself homeless. And you were homeless for how many years?

GER

00:01:39
Since 2002, November 2002. And I never knew there was homelessness at all in America. I was totally clueless on what's going on. Then someone directed me to CCNV Shelter and I've been there ever since.

SHEIR

00:01:54
David says his time in the Community for Creative Non-Violence shelter was just about up when he met Reed. But that isn't the main reason he's so happy they crossed paths. See, on the Year of Giving website, you can click a link called Lend a Hand. It's basically a want ad for various things Reed's $10 recipients said they needed. Be it new shoes, legal assistance or in David's case...

GER

00:02:15
Helping me find my family.

SHEIR

00:02:17
More specifically, his cousin.

GER

00:02:19
We kind of grew up together as little kids. He used to travel back and forth as a student, studying engineering up in Poland. He used to bring us Polish sausages, apples and '82, that's the last time we spoke, in the '80s. And I've been trying to get a hold of him through the Polish embassy and through my own Kenyan embassy. And it's been very difficult.

SHEIR

00:02:39
Now, when Reed heard this story, his first thought was, hey, I'm pretty savvy with Google. I'll go home, log on, find the guy, no problem.

SANDRIDGE

00:02:46
But it didn't quite happen like that. I looked for him, I couldn’t find him.

SHEIR

00:02:48
So Reed posted the cousin's name on the Lend a Hand site...

SANDRIDGE

00:02:51
And said if anyone finds him, contact me.

SHEIR

00:02:54
Well, a month went by, then another and another and another and finally after six months, Reed received an email from someone saying, "Guess what, I think I can help David."

SANDRIDGE

00:03:06
So I gave them my phone number. I said, well, call me. And he says, I'm the guy you're looking for, I'm in Poland. I'm Ben Bella Jaoko -- Ben -- how do you pronounce it correctly?

GER

00:03:17
Jaoko, Jaoko.

SANDRIDGE

00:03:20
Ben Bella Jaoko. And so anyway we talked, it was the most amazing phone call.

SHEIR

00:03:25
Amazing, Reed says, because of the way Ben Bella Jaoko found him. See, Ben's the hiring manager at this company in Poland and one day he was interviewing a candidate for a job.

SANDRIDGE

00:03:35
And at the end of the interview, the candidate says, by the way, you know, I don’t want to sound like a stalker, but I Googled you beforehand and then I noticed that there's a guy looking for you in the United States, but I'm sure you know that. And he said, no, I have no idea.

SHEIR

00:03:49
That's when Ben got in touch with Reed, Reed notified David and David -- what was it like speaking with your cousin for the first time after all those years? Reed connected with his beloved, long lost relative.

GER

00:04:00
I was very excited. I was very, very excited. In fact, the world became much smaller to me and much warmer, you know.

SHEIR

00:04:05
And things got even warmer from there. Ben immediately began raising funds for an airline ticket. And when I met up with David and Reed right before Thanksgiving, they had just spent the day preparing paperwork, purchasing luggage and otherwise gearing up for David's big flight back to Kenya. So I want to talk a little more about that, sort of who you plan on seeing when you bet back and what you plan on doing.

GER

00:04:24
Sure, for a bit, it's just my grandma who's moved me so much. She's like the pillar to our family, pretty much.

SANDRIDGE

00:04:31
You mentioned to me something about some of your grandmother's cooking.

GER

00:04:34
Ah, yes, yes, the fish. The fish by the Lake Victoria. It's the best fish you ever have. Heals your soul.

SHEIR

00:04:42
But when he gets back, David says he actually has some even bigger fish to fry, so to speak.

GER

00:04:47
I can go back home, try to get myself together, study a course, maybe engineering if I'm too old to study medicine. I'll take time, go visit the homeless people too, out in Nairobi now that I know how it is. But it's a whole new ballgame. I won't disappoint you. Check back on me five years later. I'll be your doctor or your engineer.

SHEIR

00:05:08
No matter what happens, though, he says he owes it all to that incidental encounter on that serendipitous September day. So this might be a hard question to answer, but if you had never met Reed, where do you think you would be right now?

GER

00:05:22
I would be, right now, sleeping on the streets because my time is up at the shelter. They want me out of there. I'll be probably addicted to some drugs, I'll be worse off than I ever started.

SHEIR

00:05:34
And that, says Reed Sandridge, is what's so incredible about this whole experience.

SANDRIDGE

00:05:39
I think, just kind of the moral of the whole story, sometimes, is you never know what situations people are in when you stop and talk to someone and learn. And maybe you're able to help somebody out. What seems like a small thing, it might end up being kind of a big deal to go back to your country.

SHEIR

00:05:53
To go back to your country and head down a whole new road no less. One full of promise and possibility that, along with that home cooked fish of course, could certainly heal any ones soul. For more information on David Ger, Reed Sandridge and The Year of Giving, visit our website, metroconnection.org. And we want to know, has your life ever been changed by a random act? Would you be on an entirely different road if not for an encounter with a stranger? Tell us all about it by sending an email to metro@wamu.org.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.