From refugee camp to head of an American household

On any given day, I'll climb into the driver's seat of my car, shift into gear, and drive off. No big deal, right? Well, I learned otherwise in my three days with Hassan Mwanasumpikwa for today's new multimedia profile of him (see the video on this page). In his world, there's something wrong when a woman sits in the driver's seat of a car or anything else.

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[Today's blog is by staff photographer Mary Knox Merrill.]

On any given day, I'll climb into the driver's seat of my car, shift into gear, and drive off. No big deal, right? Well, I learned otherwise in my three days with Hassan Mwanasumpikwa for today's new multimedia profile of him (see the video on this page). In his world, there's something wrong when a woman sits in the driver's seat of a car or anything else.

Bill Clinton Hadam's father may be on his way to being an American citizen, but it's a big effort for him to adjust 40 years of patriarchal thinking to a new set of American cultural norms. A woman's place is in the home, he says, no questions asked.

And that's how it would be for his wife, Bill's mom, Dawami Lenguyanga. Except that here in the US, things are different. Women are free to exert their independence, including taking hold of keys to the family car. And that's what Dawami did on a recent Sunday morning, driving her family to church because Hassan didn't know the way.

I learned a lot about Hassan during my time in Atlanta. Granted, my perspective may have been limited and molded by what Hassan wanted me to see. I knew something was awry when Bill started crying because he wanted to play soccer with neighborhood friends, but couldn't because he had to stay in the house with his family because I was there. And when Igey groaned in disapproval of the suit he had to wear to church, an activity only Dawami does on a regular basis. But there was a certain image of himself and his family that Hassan wanted to project - a unified family. And that's understandable when a stranger comes to your home with a camera to record your every move.

Regardless of the profile he presented, I caught a glimpse into what life looks like through the eyes of a refugee trying to make it in America. We talked about his past, how tribal conflict forced his family to flee Congo, and how he lived in refugee camps for 10 years before coming to America. He told me what life was like in Georgia, working the night shift at a poultry plant for $10.30 an hour, and hustling to earn additional income by driving co-workers to the plant. And he said his hopes for the future were centered on his children, wanting them to have a better life and more opportunities than he ever had.

You cannot tell a man's entire story after only three days of reporting. But I suspect the video is a balance between Hassan's ideal family portrait, and the difficult realities of trying to make it in a foreign country.

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