A boat full of birds rides the waves pointing towards Italy, the only horizon where it is hoped to land to begin a new flight. It is the painting realized on the walls of the first African restaurant in Venice opened the last 4th November.
The metaphor of the flight is not accidental. The staff who believed in the project is made largely by African migrants, arrived the last year with the hope of closing the door with the past and starting over. The founding members, Hamed Mohamad Karim, Hadi Noori, Mandana Goki Nadimi and Samah Hassan El Feky, migrants from Afghanistan, Iran and Egypt, have tried on their skin years before the drama of migration, when some of them arrived in smallest refrigerated trucks still minors.
And it was just a few years ago in one of the the minor’s center of Venice, that one of them, Hazara Hamed Mohamad Karim, had the intuition that food can unite and help to overcome prejudices. “I started organizing parties in the minor’s center, asking all the boys to prepare a dish typical of their country – he explains – and I saw that it worked for both the boys who were in the centers, both for those who came to visit us”. Hamed, a film director who can no longer return to Afghanistan because threatened by the Taliban, makes a first experiment in 2002 founding the Orient Experience in the Cannaregio district. The restaurant offers dishes that migrants have learned to cook on the journey of hope to Venice and is a great success.
Today the challenge is even greater because those working for the Africa Experience are asylum seekers, representing the thousands of people who are fleeing desperately from the black continent. “I am Ethiopian” – tells Alganesh Tadese Gebrehiwot, 30 years old, fled from Ethiopia, chef of the restaurant – “I learned to cook with my mother. In Ethiopia there is still a lot of division of roles, women cook and stay at home. I grew up helping her and I learned some of the dishes I will prepare, like some kind of bread, Ejra or the Mesir wot, a lentil soup. I would never have thought of becoming a cook, but I am finally very happy. I worked as a cleaning lady, but I could never make my dreams come true”.
Even Muhammed Sow from Guinea and Efe Agbontaen from Nigeria have fled from wars and violence on the boats full of people we see every day. In that mass there are individual human beings, individuals with the stories that can be known here, speaking in front of a good dish coming from a country of which very little is known at the end.
The dishes of the menu were chosen through a competition that involved students and professors of the Hotel Management School Barbarigo of Venice, called to judge which dishes to include in a real menu. The first classified have been theirs, accompanied in the hall by some founding members, such as Hadi Noori, among the first boys arrived from Afghanistan in those refrigerated trucks that for some were mortal: “I was 15 years – tells Noori, today 25 years – and I worked at the factory in Kabul, I wanted to study and I could not, in the end I had no other choice, I had to leave”.
At 15 he leaves from Afghanistan to reach Iran and then continue on foot to Turkey: “During these trips you’re alone – he explains – but then you meet other people who may not see again … From Turkey I went to Greece with a rubber boat, then I stopped there and tried to work but there was so much exploitation. One day I stuck with other boys in a truck full of oranges, the temperature fluctuated between zero and two degrees, but we managed. The same happens to my colleagues who are here today, when they embark and do not know if they will ever arrive. It only drives us the desire to start again, to fly again”.