If you’ve been out any night of the week in Florence, be it at a restaurant or a club, you have surely encountered the ubiquitous street sellers. If you have ever engaged in conversation one of these nighttime vendors, you will have realized what fascinating stories they have. Recently, while I was out on the town, I got to know a kind and interesting man, a rose seller, by any other name.
For many young Bangladeshis, the opportunity to make a new life in a European country represents a dream come true: they come here hoping to earn a decent living in a suitable job. However, upon arriving in Italy, many encounter unemployment, debt or even homelessness.
Meet Mohammed Sawalan. Now in his 30s, he came to Italy in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences to find work and a better life. Five years on, he circles the Florentine piazze and bars selling roses in the midst of Florence’s nightlife. He works six hours a night, seven days a week. ‘I charge two to three euros per rose,’ he explains. ‘Sometimes people can be rude, while others are very nice and engaging. Some customers will even give me five euro. On a good night I will sell an entire bouquet.’
At the moment, he also does intermittent work as a dishwasher at a restaurant. His brother, with whom he lives, works full time as a dishwasher. Many people who come to Italy from abroad expect to find boundless opportunities, but the current financial crisis has left countless educated and skilled people working restaurant jobs and bartending positions.
‘I would like to find other work; I will take any job and I will work very hard. There are no jobs here. I only want a little money and I’m happy. I just want enough to go home and support my family.’ Mohammed is thankful to have his brother with him, but most of his relatives remain in Bangladesh, supported by the money he sends them. ‘I talk to my family every day on the phone. My wife still lives in Bangladesh, and I haven’t seen her in two years. What can I do? No money, no honey! You know?’
It was a pleasure getting to know Salawan and his brother. At the end of our conversation, he presented me with two beautiful roses and thanked me for taking the time to get to know him. Despite his troubles, Salawan maintains a sense of humor and positivity. He remains hopeful that he will realize his dream of bringing his wife to join him in Italy someday.