I got this e-mail a few months after I shot Michele and Jimmy’s wedding. I thought it was such wonderful and touching story, I just have to share. As a photographer I always hope to create meaningful images for my clients, but often I’m surprised at how the simple moments captured end up being some of the most meaningful to them.
Thanks so much for sharing this Michele, I think of you and your family often
E-mail subject >>>> I know you are so busy but…
…I had to share this with you. I attached a story I wrote about a year ago. I took a year long story telling workshop (I don’t know if I ever mentioned that I was a librarian so I do some story telling stuff) Anyway, my assignment was to tell a personal story. I told the attached story orally and recently put it down as a written story.
I know you are so busy but, I just wanted you to see this so you could understand just how poignant your photograph is to me.
I am in new York with my mom and dad right now. They loved seeing the pictures.
Hope this email finds you well Hilda.
When I think of my mom, one of the first things that comes to mind is COFFEE. Not just your basic black American coffee. I think of the thick, heavy, rich, Turkish coffee. My mother’s coffee drinking ritual is quite specific. Every aspect; from the grinding of the beans, to measuring the water, to placing the brass copper pot on the stove and diligently watching over the pot. When I make that coffee for my mom, I always have to be careful not to let it boil over. You have to pull it off the stove just as it is rising. Even the pouring of the coffee from the copper pot into a fine china cup placed carefully on its saucer – it is all part of the ritual. When she finally takes that first sip, you can see the joy on her face as she slowly sips from the china cup holding the saucer in her hand. My favorite part is when she savors that that sip, she turns the cup over onto the saucer and lets the grounds settle. She always asks the same question, “Who is going to read my cup?” The grounds of the thick Turkish coffee settle into images. Legend has it that you can read the coffee grounds and see past – present – future. That question always makes me smile…
“Who is going to read my cup?”
Inevitably, she would read her own cup. Once she saw the numbers 3 and 9 in the grounds…
“March has always been a good month for me.”
“Momma?” I asked her, “When did you come to America?”
“March … March 9th, 1962.” You could see the stories in her eyes.
“Were you scared to leave? “ I wondered aloud.
I will never forget that Sunday Papi came to pick me up from Church. I walked outside of the church and every corner you could see, there was fire. No matter where you looked – the city was burning. The fires had been started over religion. It was then that we decided to leave Egypt. Whatever it took – we were ready to leave. What it took was years of waiting. In the end, we left what seemed on the surface to been a blessed life of moderate wealth and luxury. We each had good educations and good jobs. We left it all behind for the opportunity to come to America and a chance to give our children freedom.
In 1962, Nasser had already nationalized so much of Egypt. The banks, the schools, corporations – all were nationalized and controlled by the Egyptian government. When we left, the government took all our money… everything. They gave us $117 of our own money to leave the country and the government kept the rest. They even tried to take my gold at the airport. We had to pay them to keep what already belonged to us. The coat that Papi was wearing, the government officials at the airport took it off and cut it open top make sure that he was not hiding any money or valuables inside as we left the country. After they found nothing, they gave the cut up coat back to him. Now, it was only good for the garbage. Three of us came half way across the world to start a new life with nothing but $117 dollars and some clothes in a suitcase. We arrived; our pockets were empty, but our hearts were filled with pride. We were so proud to have the opportunity to become citizens of the United States of America.
When we arrived, we found a room in a transient hotel in Manhattan. The Kenmore Hotel at 23rd and Lexington. We went from having servants in our house to living in a transient hotel, but we never complained. We learned the language. We worked hard. Papi worked 3 jobs to put himself through school. His Egyptian education meant nothing in America. He chose New York University – he worked hard and seemed to never sleep.
Every night I made macaroni with tomato sauce from a can. It was all that we could afford. The next morning, I would use the empty can of tomato sauce – rinsed out – as the cup for my coffee. We had no idea where life would take us. Papi worked all day and all night – I stayed home with Jean-Pierre. He was four when we first came to America. At first, I wanted to go to Switzerland. I thought of Jean Pierre, I did not want him to see the horrors of war like we had seen. We decided on America, because the family had managed to come here. This was where life was meant to take us – and life took us … through four children, six grandchildren, through tin cans to drink my coffee. After three months of living in the transient hotel, they declared us “ PERMANENT RESIDENTS” They returned some of the tax we had paid as hotel guests since we were now considered residents. I took that fifty dollars and bought our first set of dishes. Four plates, four glasses, four cups, four saucers, four sets of flatware. I was now able to drink my coffee properly.
The day we became citizens of the United States, I was asked if I wanted to have both passports: Egypt and the United States. I adamantly said NO! I was now a citizen of the United States – I was an American. I would never look back. When I sing the national Anthem, I am so emotional. I cry. Forty-Eight years later, I am still filled with so much emotion.
After the citizenship ceremony, Papi said, “Let’s go out. Let’s celebrate.” But I was so happy to go to my home and have coffee in my beautiful coffee cup – to drink my Turkish coffee out of my own coffee cup as an American citizen, what can I say, I was filled with such pride.