Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Nottingham via the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme
This is the Chef
I taught basic things, like how to prepare salads correctly and how to make national dishes. My favourite food, other than Syrian, is international cuisine, especially Chinese or Italian. Food is in my blood.
Since a peaceful protest for democratic reform turned into Civil War, Syria has been decimated.
According to Shelterbox.org, one in four schools have been damaged, half of the hospitals no longer function, and millions of hectares of farmland have been destroyed, forcing half of the population to flee their homes. Some have arrived in Nottingham via the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme (VPRS). Others through sheer will and determination.
We spoke to some of these people to put a face to the statistics, to remember ordinary people doing ordinary jobs and living an ordinary life were forced to leave their home. This is one of their stories. This is the chef.
I was born in Damascus and raised in the Al-Midan neighbourhood which is just south of the old walled city. Midan is very well known for its food, especially sweets such as Baklava, Barazek, Knafah and Namorah. Lots of food is prepared here for other restaurants and areas. I lived here till I was nine. Then moved to Zamalka which is two miles northeast outside Damascus. Before we fled Syria, I lived in Ghouta, an area along the southern and eastern rim of Damascus.
Comic art panel from What is Coming
I was a chef working in a specialist school teaching people how to cook in luxury hotels, such as the Sheraton. I taught basic things, like how to prepare salads correctly and how to make national dishes. My favourite food, other than Syrian, is international cuisine, especially Chinese or Italian. Food is in my blood.
I have five brothers and one sister. My father, mother, and two brothers are in Germany now. The majority of Germans sympathise and support them. They might hear rude words now and then on a road, but they are safe. That is what matters. One brother is in Malaysia and working. One is in Egypt and wants to come to the UK but isn’t allowed. He lost a hand in one of the bombings in Syria and so is struggling to find work. My sister, her husband, and their four children died when they started bombing Douma. We use What’s App to stay in contact.
I have applied for a travel document because I don’t have a passport and I hope I will see them again one day. I miss my family. I need to see my parents first as they are older. It’s because of my father that me and my siblings are chefs. He was a chef and he raised us all for the same career. We all learned how to cook from him without studying, although unlike my siblings I went on to study as well. My dream is to have a family business where we all run our own restaurants.
Syria is a very simple and easy place to live. People are very sociable, warm and kind. My happiest memory is of visiting my grandfather on his farm every Thursday, which is like a Friday night in the UK. All of us would turn up and relax with our siblings and cousins. Big family meetings are everything in Syria. My friends and I were very successful in our work. We had a good life – family, friends, work. Everyone had their own restaurants and enjoyed living their lives. Now I am not working. I have not seen anyone in my family for six years.
The Chef spoke to James Walker on 29 April 2018 in Beeston, Nottingham. Maamon K. acted as translator.
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