“Before the war our life was good, we had four little girls. We got separated when the war came to our home, the home where my parents were killed. We started running, and the older girls ran away on their own. It was too dangerous for me to go back. Bullets were flying. I was afraid of losing the two children I was carrying, may God help me. I carried them both out of Somalia…” Arbai Barre Abdi, 2004.
Arbai Barre Abdi was part of a massive resettlement effort that began in 2003 when 12,000 Somali Bantu refugees were relocated throughout the United States. In 2004, after spending 13 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, Arbai Barre and her four children were resettled in Clarkston, Georgia.
In 2004 while working as a still photographer for a PBS documentary about refugee resettlement, I met Arbai and her children as they arrived in the United States. A few years later, I brought my 4x5 view camera on one of my weekly visits with the family, this time to celebrate the birth of Arbai’s daughter, Saida. I noticed that the slower pace of work with this camera created a more personal process that felt deeply collaborative, and the type of polaroid I used allowed me to share the positives with the many neighbors, friends, and children that saw me with the family and would later ask to be photographed themselves.
As the years passed, the portraits became a way to mark the passage of time and honor their newfound American identities. The result is a deeply personal collection of images of one family’s journey, a visual testament to their strength and resilience; sharing the joys and disappointments of a uniquely American opportunity in a home far from home.
-Bryan Meltz, 2019