A Self-made Man


So here we are, on Arik flight W3 101, destination London. We’ve been in the air for just over 3 hours. None of us have said much, really. I guess we both need a bit of time to process all the impressions from a week in Africa. For me the feeling is the same every time I return from the field: The hardship and frustration that inevitably comes with this job is quickly forgotten. The people we left behind aren’t. Where are they a year from now? Most likely they’re exactly where we left them; in a terrible situation with slim chances of a better life. But from time to time we come across people who make it, against all odds.

Abdullah Muhamed (32) is such a person. We saw him on our way to a meeting, downtown Port Harcourt.

–Please stop, I told the taxi driver, and pointed at Abdullah.

−I really need to speak to that guy!

This dirty old Nigerian town is full of handicapped, and I don’t know why I instantly knew I had to have word with this particular man. Maybe it was the look in his eyes, or his body language that caught my attention. Frankly I don’t know, but I was immediately curious of this phone-card-seller in his hand-pedalled contraption.

Abdullah is more than willing to be interviewed as long as he can attend to his customers as we go along.

−I lost the ability to walk when I was seven. To be honest I don’t know what kind of disease it was, and I have never bothered to find out. I can’t walk. That’s the bottom line, Abdullah says shrugging his shoulders.

Nigeria has next to nothing to offer their handicapped, and Abdullah’s parents were too poor to provide any education for their son. At the age of 16 he realised that he could no longer be a burden to his family and decided to start begging.

−I went to the busy traffic junctions and used my hands to drag myself along the pavement asking the drivers to spare me some change. It was tough crawling down there next to the exhaust pipes, but many of the drivers paid, and I was able to bring money home. I learned to read the minds of the drivers I begged for money, and used that skill in my begging. Some of them would pay up if I managed to make them feel sorry for me, others would fall for a good comment. The more I learned, the more I managed to bring home.

Abdullah excuses himself, and attends a customer who wants to buy one of his phone cards. Cash and card changes hands before the interview continue.

Abdullah kept on begging for years, but the money he brought home in evening was always gone the next morning.

−One day it struck me: If I save just a little bit every day, one day I’ll have enough to start my own business. Everyone needs airtime for their cell phones these days, and if I managed to use my streetwise charm to beg for money, I’m sure I can use it to sell stuff as well.

Abdullah needs another break to do his job. Two Airtel cards later he gives us his full attention again.

−I started with just a few cards, but the sales went well and I could buy more. I understood that the secret of success in this business is the ability to move to wherever the customers are. That’s why I bought this hand-pedalled bicycle. The big umbrella protects me from the sun, and gives me a chance to display my cards. Neat, isn’t it? I constantly look for ways to improve, and I only buy stuff I know can help me make more money, he tells us petting the swollen money-belt around his waste.

The 32-year old tells us he feels very happy. Sure it would be great to have two well-functioning legs, he admits, but after all he is able to get by. Not only has he got a blooming business, he has also got a wife and two kids now.

−So what is your next step in life?

−I want to open a shop, but then I need to sell more of these first, he says tapping the stack of cards with his fingers.

−Every time I pass beggars on the street I try to tell them that there is a way out of the misery. If I made it, I am sure others can too.


25 Responses to “A Self-made Man”

  1. […] For the whole story about Abdullah Muhamed, please look up the blog I run together with my friend and colleague Øystein Mikalsen: Untold Stories. […]

  2. Strength, resilience, creativity. I don’t doubt that Abdullah will one day soon have his shop.

  3. What an amazing story this man has. He has such courage. It is really humbling to read this. Thank you for posting it and your efforts to gather the story and photos.

  4. Really an amzing story!

  5. This is a truly great post. Can’t imagine the courage it must have taken this man to keep functioning under those conditions.

  6. Wonderful peek at the resilience of human nature and how ingenuity goes a long way toward confidence and personal successes. Thanks Otto.

  7. Inspired stuff, thanks for sharing, MM 🍀

  8. A very inspiring story about hope, perseverance and using one’s skills to not only survive but also thrive. Great ending to the trip.

  9. Wpw! A story of success and hope in a land of dismal failures. Thank you!

  10. Thank you for ending your trip with this uplifting story. This is a remarkable man to have made so much out of his life when the odds were against him.

  11. Wow. It’s great when a person ca look beyond his condition and not let it define him, from the standpoint of his disability and his economic hardship.

  12. Does your team photograph mostly in Nigeria?

  13. Great story and enjoyed meeting this man.

  14. It is the faith n courage that took him to where he is, may that faith grante him his heart desires,,,Abdullah I’m touched with your stories,,

  15. Reblogged this on chinnybaby319's Blog and commented:
    I’m from Nigeria and this is what the beggers(Poor) go through, wish the wise once will learn from the story of Abdullah Muhammed the 32years old man…

  16. What a great story of one man’s effort and belief in himself!

  17. For en MANN! En sterk historie. Sikker på at Abdulla en dag får sin egen butikk. Nydelige portretter.
    Takk for at du deler fra Nigeria, alle sterke historier!

  18. Abdullah’s attitude – a great example to not allow obstacles to bring you down. wonderful story and hope Abdullah finds himself to be a storekeeper one day soon.

  19. A fantastic story and well worth stopping for! Best wishes to Abdullah!

  20. Great story and thanks for telling it to the world.

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