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All photos: Lauren Santucci

They Fled Burundi. Now They're Opening Detroit's First East African Restaurant.

Photographer Lauren Santucci documents an asylum seeker family from Burundi as they adapt to their new lives in the United States.

Mamba Hamissi and Nadia Nijimbere are a couple from Burundi who recently settled in Detroit. When they finally received asylum last year, Mamba quit his day job to open an East African restaurant that will employ African asylum-seekers, immigrants, refugees.

There is a growing number of Africans moving to Detroit because of Freedom House, one of the only shelters in the country providing pro-bono housing, legal, and social services to survivors of persecution who are seeking asylum in the United States.

I've been documenting Mamba and Nadia's family since September 2017 to explore how they rebuild their lives in Detroit and what opportunities emerge when they stay. I double as a prep cook at their pop-up events, often helping them fry plantains or make last minute runs to the African market between taking photos.


Nadia Njimbere fled Burundi in 2013 when she was violently targeted for her work with a human rights organization fighting against sexual assault. As soon as she left the country, her husband, Mamba Hamissi, was also threatened with persecution.

Nadia chose to go to Detroit, a city she heard about because of Freedom House, a shelter providing pro-bono housing, social, and legal services to asylum-seekers. In the first weeks she was in Detroit, Nadia learned she was pregnant with twins. Mamba urgently tried to join her, but his travel visa issued by the United States was rejected twice.

When Mamba's visa was finally accepted in 2015, he had missed Nadia's pregnancy, the twins' birth, and the first two years of their lives. Their twin daughters, Kenza and D'ieze, are now five and started kindergarten this year.

When he became authorized to work and started searching for a job, Mamba felt that his education and successes in Burundi did not translate in America. "I hate to say it," he says "but because I did not speak English and I came from Africa, they did not trust that I was capable of the job. I learned English in 6 months. I have proven I am smart, and I can learn the job in just two or three months."

Mamba was hired at an auto factory in Belleville, Michigan assembling and packaging car parts. He later quit to work for a transportation company driving sick people to and from their doctor's appointments. He says he learned a lot about American people and culture from the senior citizens he drove—he realized he wanted a job that was social, that allowed him to engage and learn from the people in his new home. He thought about opening a restaurant to combine Nadia's cooking skills and his own experience growing up working in his mother's restaurant back in Burundi.

Unlike resettled refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, asylum-seekers are not given financial support from the government when they arrive, and their legal status remains undecided for years. When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Mamba and Nadia had still not been called for their asylum interview. They feared what they were hearing, they thought often about making the short crossing into Canada where they might have a better chance of protection. Mamba remembers his time in limbo, "I don't wish anyone to go through that process. It's hard physically and emotionally. It's really hard."

Mamba and Nadia were eventually granted asylum in April 2017, four years after Nadia applied. Less than six months later, they had won a $50,000 grant to open Baobab Fare, an East African restaurant in Detroit. In anticipation of their restaurant opening, Mamba and Nadia have hosted numerous "pop-up" meals at local businesses throughout the year. Their food often sells out within the first few hours.

Nadia is the force in the kitchen, stewing goat and chicken, frying plantains, and cooking spicy pilau rice with vegetables. She continues to work as a home care nurse for the sick and elderly, while Mamba works full-time preparing the restaurant for its opening.

Mamba and Nadia signed a lease to a building on Woodward and Grand Boulevard in a developing retail corridor in Detroit's New Center. They are busy putting together a team of staff members, which they hope to build from the growing community of African asylum-seekers and refugees living in Detroit.

If all goes as planned, Baobab Fare will open by the end of 2018 as the first East African restaurant in Detroit, and a testament to what is possible when asylum-seekers are given the opportunity to stay.

Lauren Santucci is a documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Detroit, Michigan. She is interested in forced migration and refugee issues, with the goal of humanizing these global issues through personal stories. She has a M.A. in International Relations and Art History from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

You can see more of her work at www.lauren-santucci.com or @santucci_lauren on Instagram.

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Pictures courtesy of Maeva Heim

Maeva Heim is the Founder the Beauty Industry Has Been Waiting on

The 31-year-old founder of Bread Beauty Supply is changing the conversation around haircare for textured hair.

It's nearing 9 p.m. in Australia, and Maeva Heim is dimly lit from behind and smiling warmly at her computer screen, ready to talk shop. We're here to discuss hair care, namely her brand Bread Beauty Supply, and how black beauty has made the globe smaller.

The 31-year-old is the founder of Bread Beauty Supply, a haircare line that encourages all textures and curl patterns to come as they are. "We don't want to tell you what to do with your hair. Enough people do that already," Heim says of Bread's brand philosophy. "We are just here to provide really good products for whatever you want to do with your hair at any point and not dictate to you how things should be. We're just women making the good products. You're making the good hair, and that's it. We're not here to define the rules."

But it's impossible to talk about recent strides in beauty products for textured hair without talking about the summer of 2020. In the weeks following the murder of George Floyd in the United States, a crescendo of cries rallied through global streets asking for not just equality but equity. The world watched with scrutiny as black boxes filled social feeds and brands made pledges to diversity. Those calls pinged from executive boards to the shelves of some of the world's largest beauty retailers. Meanwhile, after years of formulation, fundraising, and perfecting formulas and ingredients during a global pandemic, Maeva Heim introduced Bread beauty to the world in a perfect storm of timing and execution. The July 2020 launch filled a wide gap for Black beauty between homemade beauty products and behemoth beauty brands as Heim focused on an often under-explored direct-to-consumer middle.

Lauded on social media for their innovative packaging and nostalgic scents (the brand's award-winning hair oil smells like Froot Loops), Bread is a brand that makes hair care basics for not-so-basic hair. Typically, women with textured hair have not been included in the conversations around the idea of "'lazy girl hair" with minimal and effortless maintenance and styling - something Heim wanted to change. Part of Bread's mission is deleting category terms from the brand language – e.g. 'anti-frizz — that the brand feels unnecessarily demonizes characteristics that are natural to textured hair.

Photo courtesy of Bread Beauty

Born and raised in Peth, Western Australia, to an Ivorian mother and a French father, Heim grew up as one of the few Black kids in her neighborhood. Her days weaved between school and helping her mother run her braiding salon, one of the only of its kind in 1990's Australia. From sweeping floors, answering phones, and assisting with product orders, Heim's introduction to the world of beauty was rooted in the practice of doing.

Heim would go on to study business and law at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, before working in marketing at L'Oréal, followed by an internship at Procter & Gamble in Singapore. But it wasn't until her relaxer exploded in her luggage during a flight between New York and Chicago that she began to think seriously about not only her personal hair journey but also about the beauty industry's gaps.

After ditching chemical hair-relaxer and returning to her natural texture, she pitched her idea to Sephora and, in 2019, was selected as one of the first-ever Australian participants in the Sephora Accelerate program, securing a launch deal for both in-store and online.

But what's most striking about Heim, aside from her penchant for focusing on the brand and the consumer, is her focus on the innovation gaps for Black beauty products. Uniquely shy on social media but poignantly focused on every nuance of her brand and serving Bread's prior overlooked customer base, Maeva is the founder the beauty world has been waiting for.

*This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity

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