westward bound - the travels of father & son

Andrea Bruce | NOOR

Omar & Mustafa are farther and son, close friends of NOOR photographer Andrea Bruce, and together, they travelled nearly 3000 miles to arrive in peace at Omar & Mustafa's new family home.

In 2013 Omar made the heartbreaking decision to move his family from war torn Iraq to Riverdale, MD, in search of a brighter, more optimistic future. Having been confronted with the high cost of living, a bed bug ridden apartment and bad schools in Riverdale, Omar has been forced to relocate his family once more to Portland, Oregon; in search of the promises that bought them to the USA in the first place.

'Baghdad, Iraq | This is @andreabruce_noor reporting with Omar and Mustafa, father and son from Iraq who are road-tripping across the United States to their new home in Portland, OR.'


Andrea decided to accompany the pair on their journey, one so few Americans make. Documenting the experience through her cell phone, the adventure was a unique experience for all three, a situation Andrea & Omar probably never thought would be theirs.

 Andrea gave details about her experiences along this journey, which was a unique time for all three.


"Before we left DC with his 15 year old son Mustafa (his wife and two younger children flew to Portland, OR, ahead of time to find an apartment), I bought a road map of the United States to show the scale of the trip we were taking. And I'm glad I did. But it wasn't until we reached California that the size of the US was truly apparent to Mustafa, Omar and myself. I've never made a trip across the US like this. Few Americans have, I told him."

'Maryland | Omar leaves his Maryland apartment for a future in Portland, OR.' 



"I've known Omar and his family since 2003, when he started working for The Washington Post. I was a staff photographer for the newspaper until 2010...we always worked together when I was based in Iraq during that time. He didn't mind the dangers involved in working with photographers. He gives meaning to the phrase quiet-confidence. I am simply quiet. We spent whole days, sometimes weeks, together, barely speaking, but always on the same page. He has saved my life, quite literally, and was one of my closest friends."

'New Mexico | We have an oil leak. Nice guys on Old Route 66 helped us out.' 


"I haven't seen him in the three years since 2010 when the US pulled out of Iraq...until his family arrived in Riverdale, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. Thanks to the NY-based Iraq Refugee Assistance Project, he finally made it. Of all of the Iraqis who worked with The Washington Post, he was the most optimistic about his country. He decided, almost too late, that it would be best for his children to leave. (I have to mention, The Aftermath Project also awarded them money to help in the move.)"

'Texas | Talking on the phone with concerned family and friends.'


"Those first months were brutal for him and his family. I'm sure it is for any immigrants anywhere. If it wasn't for this move, and friends who promised something better in Oregon, I'm sure they would've gone back to the brutality of Iraq, where friends and familiarity still exist. Around DC there was a horrible school system, especially for children who speak no English. A high cost of living. Not a single positive response to a ton of job applications. And, the final straw, a bed bug infestation in their entire apartment complex. They had to throw out everything they recently bought."

'Maryland | Omar and Mustafa throw out most of their belongings in order to leave bedbugs behind.' 



"While driving with Omar on this road-trip, we would often look at each other and laugh. Especially while I was driving. I'm not sure he even knew I could drive before this trip. And when in Texas it felt so much like Iraq that we would have to mention it. "Who would think we would be doing this through America," Omar said. I agreed."

'Texas | "Texas is like Iraq, brown and flat," said Omar. With a few exceptions.' 


"They were both amazed at the emptiness and size of our country. Even I was at times. We would drive for hours without seeing a real town. We went from the city, to the Appalachian mountains, through the south, to desert, then pine trees and mountains. We saw tumbleweeds, snow, rain, lots of ice. There was the grand canyon, dry desert and huge pine trees. Omar loved the pine trees...and that there were so many different types in so many different landscapes. "

'Arizona | "I love America. We drive for five days and no one stops me. No one asks for my ID. No one asks where I'm going. No one asks what I'm doing," Omar said on our way to the Grand Canyon.' 


"Mustafa once said "I still haven't seen America." Omar agreed...they meant that in the movies you basically only see New York or LA representing the US. But in reality it is mostly small towns and countryside...which is all we saw on the trip."


'Tennessee | We woke up to this guy parked next to our tiny mini-van. Decided to take the southern route across the US to avoid ice and snow.' 


"I'm happy Omar agreed to let me document the trip. And Instagram was a more simple, and personal, approach. Using a cell phone to document this was important. I want people to get to know this man and his family...but I am a part of this story. And the central focus was to help Omar make sense of my crazy country, as he helped me make sense of his beautiful one for many years."  

'Oregon | From their new home in Portland, OR, Omar and his daughter Masarra.'