Tuesday, March 11, 2008


If her name tag had more room, it wouldn't have said Farzana. It would have said, "I'm not just a random photo girl behind a Walgreens counter."

After snapping a digital passport photo of me, she took the camera back and started to print out the 2x2 square of paper that would identify me on my visa application for China. The last time I had this done, it was a significantly less technical process that took only long enough for the chemicals in the Polaroids to perform the magically blurry fusion that ends up capturing a memory.

But it took longer than expected, and as Farzana centered my cheesy face in the photo software, we somehow struck up a conversation.

Before my job at GlobalAtlanta as an international business reporter and our move to Decatur, asking someone's nationality would have been an anomaly for me. Now, it's the norm. It's not that I'm a workaholic always looking for story ideas. I'm just interested in the mixture of cultures into the U.S. and how that trickles down to my little street.

Bangladesh was her answer, and it more intrigued than surprised me. Bangladesh, which is enclosed on three sides by a long tentacle of land owned by India, is the seventh most populous nation on Earth. But it doesn't have the space that should come with such a huge chunk of humanity. Imagine cramming half the U.S. population into an area slightly smaller than Iowa, and that's the crowded life Farzana endured before emigrating to the U.S. She estimates that about 20,000 of her countrymen live in Georgia, although the density is probably a bit lighter than back home.

Back home, Farzana was educated. She speaks Hindi and Bengali, and she has only been learning English for the two months since she came here. She'd traveled to Pakistan, Nepal, India and Thailand. She was a lawyer. What need did she have for English? Did I mention she was educated back in Bangladesh?

Apparently, the state of Georgia didn't think she was educated enough. Her law degrees aren't equally valid here, so she's currently saving up her wages from Walgreen's so that she can eventually go back to school at Georgia State University and get a law degree that will enable her to practice here. She's thinking immigration law, something she can relate too that isn't too broad.

Until she reaches that goal, it might seem that she's just a photo girl behind a Walgreen's counter. The more people I meet, the more I realize there's a story behind every name tag.

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