James was happy. In fact James is nearly always happy. Stuck inside the homeless shelter at the EHC-Lifebuilders Boccardo center in San Jose, James is a cook, or perhaps I should say, Chef. His journey to the shelter is somewhat incredible, littered with so many ups and downs, and a desire, no matter what his circumstance, to succeed. You see James is unlike most homeless people you and I would ever come across in the street, James is just different.
His passion is football, or soccer for all of you Americans who refuse to accept that your football is shite and should really be called handball. James loves the Black Stars, given nickname for his beloved Ghanaian national team. Every chance he gets, and that’s not really that often because African football isn’t really covered too much here in the USA, James is glued to the radio, the newspapers or any magazines he can get his hands on, trying to keep up with the goings on of his team. Yesterday he was elated. They qualified for the World Cup in Brazil, to be held in June/July 2014, and once the result of the second leg of a 2 game fixture with Egypt was confirmed, Ghana winning 6-3 overall in the 2 games played, James was ecstatic and celebrated in style by cooking all 125 residents of the homeless shelter, his favorite meal, teriyaki chicken, rice and mixed veg. The aroma coming from his kitchen yesterday had to be smelled to be believed. But James has always been a great cook, ever since he was a little boy growing up in his homeland, some 35 years ago. So how did he end up homeless, jobless and in need of help, here in the USA? Well, this is his story.
James left Ghana when he was 18 to come to college here in America. Before his 18th birthday, food was his passion, (it still is, only then he was spending all his time experimenting and sharpening his skills inside a small kitchen that he says was his ‘home away from home, at his aunts house in a village just west of Ghana’s capital city, Accra), and he decided by the age of 10 that he was going to become a master chef. But it never quite worked out that way. Fresh off the boat into New York, James made his way to Miami, where he studied for three years in a culinary institute, before meeting his soon to be wife. She was from Colorado, where they eventually married and settled down into a ‘normal’ kind of lifestyle. James went to work, as did his wife and then 2 kids came knocking and things changed. James was just becoming accustomed to the way things worked here in the USA and as suddenly as it began, it was all taken away, by a stroke of fate as unfortunate as it was unexpected. James wife ran off with his two kids, took every penny he had, and left him looking not only into his heart, but also into his wallet and his future. He had nothing, other than a cousin who lived here in San Jose. With virtually all hope lost, (and I’m sorry this is a brief rendition written in it’s simplest form, to protect all the participants from any unwanted retribution), James ended up in her home in San Jose, cooking simple foods for a cafe in the downtown area. This was really a million miles from where he thought his life would be at 30 years of age. And as if he thought it couldn’t get any worse, his cousin sadly died soon after James moved in, her home was taken by her ex husband, as were her kids, and within 2 days of her death, James found himself wandering the streets of San Jose as a bona fide homeless man, with no money to spend, no place to rest and a job that also vanished because of James’ inability to show up for work on time in a presentable state.
And so, here he is, pictured below, now residing at the center in San Jose, cooking meals for those who have become his friends, 8000 miles from his original home and millions of miles away from where he ever believed he would be. He needs a job, but to get a job he needs a residence. You cannot help but wonder how our system really works when you talk to James. He’s a great guy, pleasant, articulate, educated and also one hell of a cook, but yet, here he is, unemployed and homeless. There’s something wrong with this picture, and there’s nothing you or I can do about it. Or is there?
Perhaps we could find James a place to work? Perhaps we could give up some of our own precious time to sit and talk to people like James, people who have nothing, and try to coax them back into society. Or, perhaps we could just donate to great causes like EHC-Lifebuilders, in the hope they, as an organization, can put the James’s of this world, back on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately until that happens, talented people like James will remain hidden, though never by choice, anonymous and homeless. Wouldn’t it be great if just because of this article, James found a real job? Wouldn’t is be fantastic if his self-esteem was returned to him courtesy of the American dream which has so far, eluded him?
James I salute you. I salute your courage and your never-ending desire to make things work. You have never given up and I doubt you ever will. Cook on my friend, good things will happen, I promise!