Utica, Troy, Albany: A Fabulous Few Days

December 3, 2009

As mentioned earlier, I spent the beginning of this week running around upstate New York, meeting people, taking pictures, video taping, and talking with refugees from all over the world. My Monday morning began as I walked into the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR) in Utica, New York. After getting a bit turned around and wandering through a large old school, peering into different classrooms full of students studying English, I was directed downstairs to the main office of the resource center. As I turned the corner to walk into the center’s reception area I was immediately energized by the amount of people and connections that seemed to be happening everywhere. A comfortable, inviting, and lively place, I found the MVRCR to be full of incredible people with beautiful hearts.

After checking in at the front desk I was soon greeted by Alison, my fabulous tour guide for the day. I quickly got the rundown on the schedule and we were off! First stop was a mosque, run by the Bosnian Islamic Association of Utica. Here we met the prayer leader, Ahmedin, a 23-year-old refugee from Bosnia.

After speaking with him and getting a tour of the mosque we followed Ahmedin to Amy’s Grocery and Deli, a store owned by his friend Dzeusad, and Dzeusad’s wife Amiod. We saw both the grocery store as well as a beauty salon next door, also owned by Dzeusad and his family.


After hanging out and taking a few photos Alison and I were in the car and off to eat lunch at a monastery of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance.

 Here we ate a DELICIOUS Burmese lunch, and talked with our new friends U Agga and U Gawsita about Burma and their experience with coming to the United States.

Finally, our last stop of the day was at the home of Abdelshakour, the MVRCR’s IT person/computer whiz. In conversation and a video interview we learned about his travels from Sudan to Egypt, and then finally from Egypt to the United States. This was it for Monday. A long and eventful day, full of stories and people that I felt so honored to meet and speak with.

After a good night’s sleep on Monday I woke up and drove to Troy, NY. Here I visited with Erin, a teacher and class coordinator for Unseen America NYS with the Workforce Development Institute. I got a chance to hear about the photography classes run through the Unseen America project.


These classes interact with the idea of story, and give people a chance to share their experiences through both word and image. Assigned a new topic each week, students of Unseen America NYS projects learn the ins-and-outs of picture taking, while capturing images and writing poetry descriptive of their surroundings. After meeting with Erin and learning about the class, it was time for my very last visit of the trip; off to Zekriya’s house, a former student of Unseen America.


 At Zekriya’s home I learned of his travels from Afghanistan to Moscow, and then from Moscow to the United States. We discussed the differences between these different places, and what it was like leaving home. We also discussed his photos and the Unseen America classes. Check out some of his photos and poetry here!

After another yet exciting day I returned home to my grandparents house, very excited about the people I met and the inspiring work happening in upstate New York.

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