This article was first published on Abzas Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.
His name is Telman Huseynov. Sifting through trash on the streets of Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, he was spotted by a local journalist from the Azerbaijani online news platform Abzas Media, who then filmed a day in his life. The original video story has been viewed more than one million times since it was published a month ago. Little did Telman know, the reporting would change his life. Global Voices translated parts of the interview and his story into English (the original story is in Azerbaijani).
Telman Huseynov is 50 years old and grew up an orphan, mostly sleeping on the streets of Baku throughout his life. He has spent most of his life sifting through trash, collecting cans and plastic, which he then sells for whatever pocket money he can get. Numerous times, Telman tried finding a job but was unsuccessful. In his interview with Abzas Media, he shows the camera and the journalist his neatly packed and preserved driving license, adding it's been of no use. The high cost of rent prevents Telman from renting even a room. So instead, Telman sleeps on the streets, eats and dresses from what he finds in trash. He refuses to steal because, in his words, that would be “shameful.”
Sometimes Telman visits a church, where he spends time praying. He wishes he had a big car to drive and work, to have a home, and a wife. “But to no avail,” says Telman breaking down into tears during the interview.
In addition to whatever money he gets from selling the recyclable trash he collects, he mostly eats what he finds in the trash. At one point in the video, Telman turns to the camera and says, “Dinner is ready. I have found sausage, some ketchup and bread,” he tells Abzas media correspondent smiling. He finds cake somewhere else, bread and bits of leftover meat in another (which he generously shares with a street cat), and a jar full of soup in another. He gets disappointed when he finds a box of tea, and the box turns out to be empty. “I have not had tea for almost twenty days,” he tells the journalist and the cameraman.
Telman tried applying to retirement homes, but according to the 50-year-old, he is too young to qualify. “Meanwhile, I will have to go through trash for another 15 years until I reach a retirement age and qualify for a pension.”
“I am no different from a street dog that spends all day outside sifting through trash,” says Telman. “It is hard to live; I am so fed up,” he adds, tears rolling down his face.
In addition to his daily struggles, he is often run off by street cleaners employed by the local municipality, who tell him to leave the area. That leaves him empty-handed, so he heads to a different neighborhood.
Telman has also been reprimanded for speaking to the journalist from Abzsas Media. In the video, he explains how district police in one of the neighborhoods, after spotting him walking around with a journalist, detained him. At the police station, he was beaten by the officers. Telman tells the journalist the following day after the crew finds him. “They said I was criticizing the state? And that I allegedly told you that there was no state. I swore to the captain at the station that I said no such thing. They said I was lying and kept beating me on my head,” explains Telman. He was held overnight at the station and released the next day, with a warning that the next time a journalist approaches him for an interview, he should send them away and not speak to them. Perhaps, in an attempt to teach Telman a lesson, police also confiscated whatever money he had on him and his cigarettes.
“I do not want to live,” says Telman the next day when the Abzas Media correspondent returns to speak with him, once again, breaking down into tears.
The story of Telman reached a few generous citizens. One businessman offered him a job and a place to live in a different city. The last time Abzas Media spoke to Telman over the phone, he said he was happy where he was. He now lives in a forest, has a roof over his head, and a job.