This is a story about a 71-year-old man who was born, raised and educated in Nigeria; a man who founded and built a K-12 school and was its principal for 30 years as it grew to 800 students; a man who lived through three years of deadly civil war in his country.
This is a story about Augustine Nwaizugbu (which translates to “child of all” in his native Igbo), who, as it turns out, is a restless man on a mission. This is about a man who dearly and deeply loves America.
Bob Crizer remembers seeing a guy walking in Los Osos whom he thought was carrying a surfboard, which actually turned out to be an ironing board.
“I said ‘Hi’ to him and introduced myself,” says Crizer of the meeting. “He told me he was collecting discarded items. That was last spring.
“A couple days later,” Crizer went on, “I saw him again and got into a conversation. One of the beautiful things he said was: ‘You Americans have much surplus, Americans are blessed. They aren’t blessed because they have so much, they’re blessed because they give so much.
“My country was in civil war for three years,” says Augustine of the conflict from 1967-70, a war that is estimated to have led to the deaths of 3 million people through disease and starvation.
“Americans fed my country for three years and provided medicine. Americans feed and provide medicine to nations all over the world. First God, then Americans.”
That generosity was driven home to Augustine shortly after arriving in Los Osos.
“I was on a walk and saw a lot of castoffs and things being thrown away,” he says. “Most of them had free signs. I asked my son, and he said those things are given free to anyone who will care for them. It occurred to me that a lot of people in my home might need those things.”
Augustine’s odyssey from Nigeria to the neighborhoods of Los Osos began when his son James was transferred from his correctional officer’s job at Salinas Valley State Prison to the California Men’s Colony in March 2010.
The 30-year-old found a place in San Luis Obispo for a month before settling in Los Osos. (His work ethic is bracing: At CMC from Thursday nights through Monday nights, gets off work Tuesday morning, drives to San Francisco, where he takes classes at the University of San Francisco through Thursday, and then it’s back to CMC. If all goes according to plan, he’ll receive his master’s degree in nursing this spring.)
James brought his father and mother, May, who works for Nigerian National Television, to Los Osos in March. Because James is a naturalized citizen, his parents have permanent resident status and can come and go. May has since gone back to their home in Nigeria; Augustine plans to return to Nigeria in December for a month or two and then come back.
Augustine’s mission of collecting castoffs began by “riding around on my son’s bicycle, and then James bought me a truck ...”
“ because he was carrying things on his handlebars that he shouldn’t have been,” says Crizer, finishing Augustine’s thoughts.
“A lot of people had sympathy when they saw me on the bicycle and offered to help convey the things to my house.”
“A person took some of Augustine’s stuff and said he’d drop it at his house,” adds Crizer. “When he didn’t show up, Augustine thought, ‘Oh, boy, he’s taken off.’ ” As it turned out, the Good Samaritan simply got lost and eventually showed up.
“I go to garage sales for clothes, shoes, books, cellphones, computers (whether they work or not because they can be fixed), household goods, microwaves, refrigerators, bicycles (a lot of them), toys and stuffed animals.”
And, as odd as it may sound, he also managed to procure a piano. He spends an average of $200 to $300 a week at garage sales. “Yet,” says Augustine, “they start giving me things.”
Now, the question arises, what do you do with all of this stuff, these things? Well, he rented two storage units in Los Osos and filled those.
Once the units were stuffed to where there was no room for even one last spatula, he made plans to rent four 26-foot long U-Hauls to transport the goods to Los Angeles for shipping to his Nigerian home of Aba, a city with roughly the population of San Francisco.
The mass of goods was taken to Los Angeles on Sept. 12 and is being readied for a container and shipment. Since then, Augustine has once again filled two storage units to ship more goods.
“When someone says they like what you’re doing,” he says of his collecting, “you work doubly hard.”
“When I came to Los Osos, I knew almost no one but my son,” says Augustine. “In a month, I met Bob and he introduced me to others. The level of generosity and lightness of heart (is) America, which gives more than any other country in the world. America is seen as the grandfather of the world. America is always there to provide solutions.
“I came here to rest,” Augustine explains. “So when I came here, I came into the business of being restless.” And it can be said that that’s been to the benefit of yard-salers in Los Osos who now have an indirect connection with residents of Aba, Nigeria.
If you would like to contribute to Augustine’s restless acquisition of used items, he can be contacted through son James’ email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If you see a man who looks Nigerian,” says Crizer, “say hello.”
You never know what international bridges you may be helping to build by doing so.