Vendor Profile: Yemane Berhe


Yemane Berhe (Photo by Real Change News)

Near the post office on University Way Northeast, everything was basking in the sun’s morning glow. And on a street corner there, a man stood.

He was wearing denim blue jeans, a black beanie and a black jacket. Next to him was what looked like a stumpy silver cart full of paper stacks, but organized.

As people walked by, he would look at them, holding out his paper. For a few, he would talk.

Whenever the man wasn’t smiling, his eyes seemed to smile instead. He talked in a way that seemed to care, even if but for the sake of conversation. His name is Yemane Berhe.

Via Real Change News

Yemane is a vendor for Real Change News, where he can have some source of income. He’s been with Real Change since December of 2010.

He was homeless. Now, he lives with Hadeghe Hadeghe, a good friend of Yemane’s, assisting with rent however much he can.

Yemane and Hadeghe are immigrants originally from East Africa’s Eritrea. If and when Yemane comes across communication barriers with people, he’ll ask Hadeghe to be a mediator for those involved. Both men came to America seeking refuge.

“I have 11 brothers and sisters,” Yemane said. “Four passed away in war: three brothers and one sister.”

Eritrea had fought for its independence from Ethiopia in a war lasting 30 years, from 1961 to 1991. Ultimately, the two areas were permanently separated on a map in 1993 upon a referendum with 99.79 percent of voters in favor.

Yemane had lived in Eritrea until the 1990s, at which point he moved across its border to Sudan when he was approximately 21 years old. There, he opened up a restaurant.

Reflecting on the move, however, wasn’t pleasant.

“Sudan was very hard the first time,” Yemane explained. “They pee everywhere, and the tobacco — you know, that you put in your mouth — they spit everywhere. I got malaria many times.”

After being in Sudan for seven years and three months, Yemane was able to immigrate to the U.S., initially living in Washington, D.C., with his sister. He then became a taxi driver for 13 years.

During this time, he brought over his two sons and his wife, from whom he is now separated.

However, when Yemane first arrived he didn’t speak a word of English. To change this, he voluntarily took a language class three days a week for a year and a half.

Although he doesn’t have much communication with his family, Yemane insists on sending any extra money to his relatives.

“I help my sons in Washington [D.C], my mom in Africa, then my younger brother,” he said, “then I take care of myself.”

Stumbling upon Real Change was an accident, Yemane said.

He traveled to Seattle from Alabama in the hopes of obtaining a better job through a friend. But the opportunity fell through. Down on his luck and out of money, Yemane heard about Real Change, and decided to try it out.

His spot of choice is in front of the post office on University Way Northeast, using the corner at least three days a week. As the seasons change, however, Yemane can additionally be spotted selling in busier places such as Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

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