He was standing in front of a building I had just bicycled past on my way downtown. Something about his relaxed pose and the hat caught my eye so I circled back to say hello and ask if he would join my Human Family photo project. He was chatting with a friend. He was smiling as I told him about my project (always a good sign) and then he said “Ok. I’ll do it.” We shook hands. Meet Abraham.
Abraham’s friend said he would be on his way. I apologized for breaking up the conversation but he said he was just about to go anyway. We were all standing in strong sun on a busy street so I looked around and decided on the side of the building that was shaded. It was a house converted to a recording studio business and if it was not for Abraham’s grocery bags, I would have thought he was a musician waiting for a recording session to start.
Abraham was relaxed and friendly and removed his backpack and put down his bags when I suggested this would remove distractions from the photo. Photographically, my main considerations were lens choice and positioning since there were bright, reflective windows on the house, murals, a fence, and a garden to avoid stepping on. As for lens choice, as I pulled my camera from my bag I discovered I had left my portrait lens on the camera after photographing some flowers at home. Although a portrait lens would seem ideal for taking a portrait, I was momentarily “thrown” since I use it infrequently, preferring the wider field of view of a “normal” lens for its all-purpose flexibility. I overcame my surprised at the lens discovery and set about positioning Abraham to work around the location. The light was excellent.
While chatting, I found out that Abraham is from Somalia and has been in Canada for eight years. When I asked what brought him to Canada he confirmed what I already knew: “Somalia is a violent place. Canada is far safer.” When I asked if it was difficult leaving Somalia and getting to Canada he said “Very difficult.” The move, however, has worked out well for him. I learned that he came on his own, without family and we talked about the challenges of adapting to a new country and new culture – not at all easy. He told me that work and meeting people at work had been helpful in making the adjustment. He worked for several years in the oil fields of Alberta in Western Canada. From what I know, working the oil fields is very hard, dangerous work, often in isolated conditions. The benefit is high pay.
Abraham was warm and friendly with excellent English. I assume he already spoke English when he came to Canada. I later learned that while Somali and Arabic are the languages of Somalia, English is the most commonly-learned foreign language. When I asked what advice he would give to his younger self he said “Get more education.” We talked about the fact that education does not guarantee a job, but it sure improves the chances of getting hired. Abraham’s plans for the future include more education. I mentioned that there are many programs in Toronto for “mature students” who are returning to school. Such programs are a good fit for someone like Abraham who would otherwise feel out of place with a room full of classmates ten years younger.
To fit the full-length photo into the field of view of my portrait lens I had to back up and stand in the middle of the street. We had a light moment when I made him promise to warn me if a car came. He laughed and said he would. When I asked him what it was like to have a complete stranger approach him and ask to meet and take photos he said “It was good. I’m kind of shy but it’s good to meet people and I’m glad I said yes.” I told him I was glad too. He added that he likes taking selfies but it was good having his portrait taken by me.
We exchanged information and wished each other a pleasant day.
This is my 768th submission to The Human Family Group on Flickr.
You can view more street portraits and stories by visiting The Human Family.