Journalist and Photographer
IMG_1201.jpg

Home in Sanctuary

Documenting one couple's life in a church

This piece, initially created as a project for a Documentary Photography course, was published online in Connecticut's The Record Journal on May 24, 2018.

IMG_1136.jpg
If we blame this administration, then we just blame again. When will we be done?
— Sujitno Sajuti

Sujitno Sajuti, 69, first came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar from Indonesia in 1981. After receiving two master's degrees here—one at Columbia University and one at UConn—he was on the path to a PhD in Medical Anthropology, when UConn cut off his funding. With only a student visa, Sajuti wasn't legally permitted to work, making it difficult to fill the sudden financial void. His next blow came when his dissertation advisor took an early retirement. When his student visa expired in 1996, Sajuti applied for a green card, hoping to stay in the U.S. until he could complete his doctorate program. But due to the immigration politics at the time, his application was denied, a deportation notice sent with it. Since then, Sajuti has fought for multiple deportation stays and work permits, equipped with years of community service and powerful friends in his city of West Hartford, Connecticut. Working as a homeschool teacher and a tutor, he is said to have bumped students up a whole grade level in just three months. Fall of 2017 though, this home was no longer safe. ICE had come to deport him. He and his wife, Dalia, moved into a small office in a church 30 minutes away—Meriden's Unitarian Universalist Church. Unable to leave the building out of fear of deportation, the couple now has a new idea of home.

IMG_1227.jpg
IMG_1170.jpg
IMG_1212.jpg
 Sujitno Sajuti and his wife Dalia in their new home: a church office-turned-bedroom. They've lived here since October, but still consider their West Hartford apartment "home."

Sujitno Sajuti and his wife Dalia in their new home: a church office-turned-bedroom. They've lived here since October, but still consider their West Hartford apartment "home."

I said this is only temporary. I will not stay here forever, no way.
— Sujitno Sajuti
IMG_1146.jpg
IMG_1162.jpg
 Dalia teaches the Quran and its original Arabic text to American Muslims, and Sujitno is deeply religious himself. The couple spends most of their day praying; the furniture in their narrow room has been arranged to give them an open corner in the direction of Mecca, where they must face when praying. During this particular session, the Christian church downstairs was hosting a dance class. Church members led by instructors danced in circles and patterns, chanting about love and unity. 

Dalia teaches the Quran and its original Arabic text to American Muslims, and Sujitno is deeply religious himself. The couple spends most of their day praying; the furniture in their narrow room has been arranged to give them an open corner in the direction of Mecca, where they must face when praying. During this particular session, the Christian church downstairs was hosting a dance class. Church members led by instructors danced in circles and patterns, chanting about love and unity. 

 Sujitno believes happiness does not come from space or things. He said as long as he has God and his necessities, he will always be positive.

Sujitno believes happiness does not come from space or things. He said as long as he has God and his necessities, he will always be positive.

In your life there must be balance, the good and the bad.
— Sujitno Sajuti
IMG_1160.jpg
IMG_1221.jpg
I THINK THERE HAS BEEN ONGOING, MUTUAL CULTURAL EDUCATION, AWARENESS, AND ADJUSTMENTS AMONG THE CONGREGATION AND SUJITNO AND DALIA.
— Alok Bhett, Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance
 Dalia shows off a photo from their wedding day in Indonesia.

Dalia shows off a photo from their wedding day in Indonesia.

 The couple asked for a copy of this photo to email to their family in Indonesia, whom they haven't seen in decades. They said their family has seen them in the news and doesn't understand why they're being hunted.

The couple asked for a copy of this photo to email to their family in Indonesia, whom they haven't seen in decades. They said their family has seen them in the news and doesn't understand why they're being hunted.

IMG_1145.jpg
 In West Hartford, they taught classes in Indonesian culture and food. Below is a photo of them with some former students, who they often keep in touch with.

In West Hartford, they taught classes in Indonesian culture and food. Below is a photo of them with some former students, who they often keep in touch with.

IMG_1166.jpg
FOR SUJITNO AND DALIA, WHO ARE SO CONNECTED TO THEIR COMMUNITY, IT MUST BE EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO BE SO DETACHED AND DISTANT, EVEN WITH THE VISITORS THEY RECEIVE.”
— Alok Bhett, Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance
IMG_1213.jpg
IMG_1171.jpg

In May, Ramadan begins. During this period, they fast, often in large groups. Sujitno and Dalia hope to be back in their West Hartford apartment so they can host their friends and community members.

IMG_1172.jpg
 The church has given the family their own refrigerator and storage bins, which are kept stocked up by friends, community members, and volunteers. 

The church has given the family their own refrigerator and storage bins, which are kept stocked up by friends, community members, and volunteers. 

 Their dishes are a mix between those shared with the church and those they brought.

Their dishes are a mix between those shared with the church and those they brought.

IMG_1193.jpg
 Dalia's masterpiece: noodles from a ramen pack mixed with shrimp and bamboo shoot.

Dalia's masterpiece: noodles from a ramen pack mixed with shrimp and bamboo shoot.

 "This will make you skinny." —Dalia Sajuti on tamarinds, a sour-sweet fruit pod remarkably resembling a bean

"This will make you skinny." —Dalia Sajuti on tamarinds, a sour-sweet fruit pod remarkably resembling a bean

I see from the good side of my life. God only gives you a reward if you’re patient and do good things.
— Sujitno Sajuti
IMG_1230.jpg