Vendor-to-vendor: Street paper vendors make connections a world away

This year Megaphone has started a sister paper relationship with the street paper in Bergen, Norway, which is called Megafon. As part of the collaboration, we wanted vendors from the two publications to have a chance to talk to each other and share their experiences. We’ll feature interviews between vendors from both papers over the course of this year.

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In this first installment, Megaphone’s Peter Thompson interviewed Megafon’s Roger Torvisk. Peter is a 55-year-old Aboriginal man who is formerly homeless. Roger, who is 32 years old, is a heroin user. 

Peter Thompson: How did you get involved in selling Megafon?

Roger Torsvik: It was either selling magazines or being a criminal. I want a life after this, and I don’t want to start that life by paying debts. I work every day, and I have sold Megafon since October 2013. I don’t have any other possibilities; I was actually on the street begging for money. I felt unworthy. 

It’s better to sell Megafon than being a criminal. Once I tried to buy a phone with somebody else’s credit card. The police came. I just smiled and said: I guess I’m not very good at this. The police told me I was once of the nicest criminals they’ve met in a while.

Peter: What do you like about selling the magazine?

Roger: Being a vendor actually suits me. I did not know there was a vendor in me. I easily get in touch with people. Some pray for me and although I’m not religious, I do appreciate the gesture. I appreciate being noticed.

Peter: Do a lot of street paper vendors in Bergen struggle with addiction? What other social issues do vendors there face?

Roger: Most of the vendors struggle with addiction, mostly heroin and amphetamines. According to the government, Norway doesn’t have homeless people, but that’s not all true. To get treatment for addiction, it takes time. The drug abuse usually gets worse while waiting. I am waiting for treatment and want to get “clean”.

Peter: Are there good resources for drug users in Bergen?

Roger: There are a lot of low-threshold offers; we can get free clothes, food and a bed to sleep in; medical care to name some. You have to take advantage of these things. Unfortunately, the facilities are located in different places in the city. If you struggle with anxiety it’s not easy to use these offers.

Peter: What goals do you have in life? 

Roger: Being drug-free. That’s my only goal right now. I don’t want to lose myself. I just want to be happy. I have good qualities, which will be helpful in my drug-free life. I believe the best in people and that’s why I get in many tricky situations.

Roger: Did you experience prejudice and stigma as a homeless person?

Peter: Yes, I have had experiences with prejudice when I was on the street. It’s sad to say, but being native is tough: you get the young punks who try to show off by proving they are better than others. But it doesn’t make sense; in reality native people are still here and will always be, so they can’t expect to close their eyes and open them and we will be gone.

Roger: Do you work every day? How is meeting your customers?

Peter: I work six days a week. I have met a lot of customers and, over time, some are real close, like family. Every day or every other day if they have time they will stop and chat. If not, they will wave or say, “Hello, too busy to stop now.” They have become my very good friends. They treat me as I treat them, with respect.

Roger: How do you deal with difficult customers/people?

Peter: I remember this one time, this lady used to walk by and scream at me saying that all Megaphone vendors are crackheads. I listen to Rock 101 on my radio and she said “I hate Rock 101 blah blah blah” and swung a stick at me, so I told her, “That does it, I’m phoning the police.” I took out my phone and pretended I was dialing 911. She got scared and took off, but came back saying, “I’m sorry, please cancel, I won’t bother you.” I told her, “They are on their way.” She took off again and came back two hours later. “What did they say?” she asked. I told her if she continued to bother me they were going to lock her up for a long time. She said, “I won’t, I won’t.” After that she walked without saying a word. As for bad customers, I tell them there are two kinds of people: there are the good ones who like to help people out and then the other kind—I would like those people to keep their opinions to themselves; I leave them alone, I wish the same for me.

Roger: What do you like about selling the magazine?

Peter: I like interacting with the people where I sell. I have my regular customers and then there’s a whole variety that come down to shop—even people from different countries know about street papers. I have great conversations with my customers and I have met a great group of people. This keeps me going every day.

Roger: Do you believe in a happy ending? What makes you happy?

Peter: A happy ending to me is a goal that you set and reach. Also what you do on a day-to-day life, like helping others, who then help someone else when they need it. What makes me happy is the connection I have with people and to see them smile or laugh because you are a part of their world. We are all connected.

Peter Thompson sells Megaphone at Robson and Howe in downtown Vancouver.

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