I was crossing Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto and this man and his female companion passed me. His outfit captured my attention immediately and I turned around to meet him. I asked if minded telling me about his beautiful outfit and where it was from. “I’m from Tanzania” he said “but this is traditional Muslim clothing that isn’t just from Tanzania.” I complimented his outfit and said it looked truly beautiful. I could see that the two of them were receptive to the sincere compliment so I proceeded to ask if he would mind my photographing him and his outfit for my Human Family project on Flickr. He looked to her and they both nodded. I confirmed that they weren’t in a rush, showed them my contact card, and gave an explanation of the project. I said it would take about five minutes. No problem. We shook hands. Meet Hamad.
I suggested we take a few steps to get into the shade of a pavilion at the edge of the square and use a ticket booth as a background. I’ve taken a few project photos in this location which offers the only shelter in the large, open square. Hamad’s partner, Ghadir, stood by with her cell phone while Hamad and I took the photos. Ghadir was kind enough to babysit the large parcel I was carrying so that my hands would be free to take the photos. Sunglasses on, sunglasses off, and a full-length photo and we were done. I showed the photos to Hamad and Ghadir and we were all pleased.
Ghadir resisted my effort to charm her into joining Hamad for a joint portrait. Hamad explained she’s a bit camera shy and I said although it was a shame, I would not press the point. Although Ghadir was dressed in more traditional western clothing, she was photogenic and it would have been a nice photo. Oh well, we have to know when to push and when not to push. I took out my cell phone to take down some notes as we conversed. When I realized I was going to botch the spelling of their names, I handed them my cell phone and they were kind enough to do the typing for me.
Hamad has been in Canada for a year today. Why did he come to Canada? “To join my family. My parents had already moved here.” What has he been doing since his move to Canada? “I’m attending a school program to get a high school equivalency so I can go to college or university.” As it turned out, the school Hamad is attending is just a few blocks from my home and I pass it often. His goal is to become a Mechanical Engineer so he has a lot of school ahead of him. I asked if conditions had been difficult (political instability often brings newcomers to Canada) in Tanzania and he said they were not. He had a not bad life there but the hope is for an even better life in Canada with greater opportunity.
Hamad’s outfit is called (in Tanzania at least) a “kanu.” I asked if today was a special occasion because the outfit looked far too dressy for everyday wear. He explained it and the hat are usually worn on special occasions but with today being Friday, it is a special occasion for Muslims – a day of prayer. When I noted that the hat matched the trim on his kanu he pointed out that his sandals completed the match. It was a very nice effect and he wore the outfit well.
When I asked what advice Hamad would give his younger self, it was a question that didn’t bridge the language difference easily. I enlisted Ghadir’s help in explaining it and when she understood my intent she laughed and said “He will have to answer that question, I can’t.” Hamad said if he knew then what he knows today he would have studied harder. I could relate to that response. I have heard it said that education is wasted on the young and I think there’s some truth to that. We tend to see its value more clearly in our adult years. I commented that my Human Family project is my later-life education in that the people I meet and the places they come from provide me with an educational experience and the streets are my classroom.
I asked Ghadir how she would describe Hamad and she said he is “kind and adventurous.” When I asked for an example of his adventurous spirit she said “Well, he had not been exposed to Chinese food before coming to Canada. When I suggested we go to a Chinese restaurant, he didn’t hesitate.” I’m sure Hamad is having a lot of brand-new experiences since moving to Toronto so it’s not bad that he’s such an open and adventurous person. When I asked Hamad if he had a message to share with the project he didn’t hesitate before replying “Pray to God.”
Hamad said he didn’t have a working email address which is a shame because I thought the portraits came out well and that he should have copies. Ghadir doesn’t use email but Hamad said he was going to create a brand-new email address and use my contact card to get in touch.
Thank you Hamad and Ghadir for spending a few minutes of this nice, warm Friday morning with me and for participating in my Human Family photography project on Flickr. I hope Canada is not bad to you. I also hope school goes well and wish you success in pursuing the career you have chosen.
This is my 248th submission to The Human Family Group on Flickr.
You can view more street portraits and stories by visiting The Human Family.
Follow-up: A week or two later I received a polite request from Hamad via email asking me if I would please send him the photos and giving his email. They had not been posted yet. I sent them right off and said I hoped he would like them as much as I do. I also wished him luck in Canada and success in his studies. He replied as follows:
"I actually I real like them and I real appreciated for your bless. thank you."
I could feel the sincerity as I read his email. What a nice Human Family encounter. 🙂