At 19, Sami fought with Saddam Hussein’s special forces, but defected his duties after witnessing harrowing atrocities and joined the Peshmerga. At 25, he fled to Turkey via Iran in attempt to relocate his family to safety in Europe, but was detained. He spent three months in an Iranian prison where beatings ensued and boys were raped. He returned home after deportation to Kurdistan, only to flee to Turkey once again in the same pursuit of freedom.
He made it to Van, Turkey, and lived on the streets–stealing to survive. A Turkish fella befriended him and helped him gain his UN refugee status. Four months later he returned to Iraq, collected his family, and snuck them past guards and guns over the mountainous Turkish border. In 2000, Sami and his wife, Beyan; 6-year-old Malala, and 8-month-old Shene flew to Houston, Texas to begin life in America–with 35 cents in their pocket and no knowledge of the English language.
I met them in February 2015 in Portland, Oregon–22 years later–where they’d moved in 2006. The littlest two, Abby and Rozeen, were born in 2007 and 2012. Over the course of five nights at their home in Beaverton, Oregon, a dozen Kurdish meals, and countless pots of strong chai, I heard the tale firsthand and photographed their lives today. You can read the full article on my blog here.