I had just left class and was entering the mall to buy postage stamps (remember those?) when I first saw her. I could only see her from behind but large-brimmed hats have attracted my attention ever since I started this photo project. I peeked back after I had passed and saw her photogenic looks and bright earrings and my decision was made. I doubled back and introduced myself and my project. She listened with interest and liked the sample photos on my contact card and said she would be happy to participate. She was in need of a good headshot photo and this just might benefit both of us. She also liked the concept of the project which links strangers. Meet Fozia.
Even though the mall has skylights, there is something about the quality of the light which has driven me nuts in the past so I suggested we take a few steps to the entrance and make the photographs against a metal grate near the doorway. While taking the photos, it occurred to me how self-conscious I used to be photographing people in the presence of many passers-by. Now I never give it a second thought and I suppose my own comfort passes to my subjects because Fozia seemed at ease as I made the photos.
We returned to the warmth of the mall to chat and exchange information. Fozia is 39 and works sourcing costumes for movies and tv shows. I once met someone in this line of work and discovered that they often get contemporary clothes and accessories from local stores that allow them to be returned if they are in like-new condition. I joked that she probably knows all of the stores in the mall well and she laughed and said she also is up to date on their return policies. She had just come from a meeting when I met her and said she was in the process of deciding whether to meet a friend or return home.
Fozia was born in Canada but her parents are from Djibouti, in East Africa. Wikipedia says the following about Djibouti: "Djibouti is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast. Djibouti is a multi-ethnic nation with a population of over 846,687 inhabitants. Arabic and French are the country's two official languages. About 94% of residents adhere to Islam, a religion that has been predominant in the region for more than 1,000 years."
Fozia is multilingual, having been schooled in French and having learned Spanish. She had the slightest hint of a French accent as we spoke. When I asked what she likes best about her job she said that she likes artistic people and her job puts her in regular contact with creative folk. She also loves fashion so it’s a good match. A people-person, she likes the fact that her job involves a lot of interaction. Her warmth and openness were evident during our chat. Her current challenge is “being a starving artist.” She likes her job but says that working in the arts is not very financially rewarding. I have heard that from many artists and it’s a shame that most artists have to struggle to survive. Her message to her younger self is “Be kinder to yourself. Things tend to work out in the end.” She told me that her name is an Egyptian Arabic name. She had a different name at birth but was told that English-speakers would have difficulty pronouncing it so her parents have called her Fozia. Her original name meant Heaven. When I looked up Fozia later I discovered it means Triumphant or Successful.
Fozia’s message to the project is that we need to pay more attention to how alike we are no matter our origins, race, or religion. “I have traveled a lot in South America and am always interested in the fact that people are people. We are better together than apart.” I couldn’t agree more and noted that her message was a perfect fit for the theme of my project. When asked if she had a dream, she said she would like to write and produce a movie about a young girl from Djibouti whose family moves to Canada. The movie would document the many challenges and rewards stemming from this relocation. So many people in today’s world face relocation that this would no doubt be a move that would resonate with many viewers. I told Fozia that I hope her dream comes true.
As we parted, it was clear that our chance encounter had been meaningful for both Fozia and me. She commented again on how much she liked the notion of friendly encounters with strangers and I told her how glad I was that my project had given me the opportunity to meet her.
This is my 427th submission to The Human Family Group on Flickr.
You can view more street portraits and stories by visiting The Human Family.