Shengjin metropolis, Albania – The scent of freshly baked bread wafts from the kitchen of a small pizzeria in Shengjin metropolis – a small coastal city in Albania. The bread, nonetheless, isn’t a part of the same old choices on the menu of Bella Vita Pizzeria, however in actual fact, a model of the Afghan naan, a quintessential conventional bread from Afghanistan that embodies a lot of the war-torn nation’s meals tradition.
The naan is barely one of many 5 new dishes that are actually being ready within the kitchen of this Albanian pizzeria that has agreed to share its area with a makeshift Afghan restaurant began by two Afghan refugee girls – Hasiba Atakpal, a famend journalist, and Negina Khalil, the primary feminine prosecutor within the distant province of Ghor in Afghanistan.
“We now have lobia (pink bean curry), qabili pulaw (Afghan meat and rice delicacy), bolanis (stuffed fried bread), banjan borani (eggplant in tomato sauce),” mentioned Khalil, who was a distinguished member of Afghanistan’s authorized fraternity, investigating circumstances of kids recruited by Afghan armed teams similar to Taliban, ISIL (ISIS) associates. “And similar to in Afghanistan, each meal is served with the naan,” she added.
The acquainted aromas of bread and spices invite the roughly 1,200 Afghan refugees in Shengjin to bask in a nostalgia-evoking culinary expertise, greater than 5,500km (3,400 miles) away from the properties they left escaping persecution after Taliban seized the nation in August final 12 months. In all, almost 3,000 Afghans have discovered refuge in Albania, most of them rescued by worldwide assist companies.
Whereas it was Khalil’s work prosecuting armed teams and criminals that put her at excessive danger, Atakpal’s daring, front-line reporting as a correspondent for the TOLOnews – Afghanistan’s largest information channel – earned her threats from Taliban fighters who disapproved of her work.
Each girls have been compelled to depart Kabul, however proceed to dedicate their energies to serving their Afghan compatriots.
Atakpal and Khalil’s restaurant, known as Ghezaye Afghani (which implies Afghan cuisines in Dari, one of many Afghan languages), doesn’t have a enterprise deal with – it exists throughout the native pizzeria that provided their area to the 2 enterprising girls.
“We began this restaurant three months in the past after we noticed how a lot Afghans who escaped to Albania missed the meals from house. Everybody right here [at the refugee centre] is coping with trauma, and we needed to do one thing to carry smiles to their faces,” defined Atakpal.
The 2 girls, who first met on the refugee processing centre within the Center Jap nation of Qatar, approached the native restaurant outdoors the Rafelo resort in Shengjin the place they have been being housed. All Afghans have been accommodated at designated refugee centres.
Hundreds of Afghans have been dropped at Qatar after they have been airlifted out of Afghanistan within the wake of the Taliban’s return to energy in August, and because the US-led overseas troops ready to exit the nation after 20 years of struggle.
“We shared our drawback with them; about how the Afghan group missed the native meals. We defined the concept we had about beginning an Afghan kitchen, they usually readily gave us permission to make use of their restaurant area to cook dinner and serve, for free of charge,” Atakpal mentioned.
With a spot secured, the 2 girls, who are actually good buddies, sought out discovering produce to arrange inexpensive genuine meals, and at occasions needed to substitute them with the closest accessible components. “It’s not that onerous to seek out components.
“However our focus has been to arrange meals that isn’t costly so the folks can afford them as a result of almost all our clients are refugees right here, like us,” Khalil added.
In addition they employed one other Afghan girl to arrange the dishes, since each girls had restricted cooking expertise. “Again house, I used to be all the time so busy, I hardly hung out within the kitchen. However now my household discover it very attention-grabbing that now I spend no less than three days per week within the kitchen,” Atakpal quipped.
The restaurant has additionally gained a major following among the many native residents in Shengjin – house to about 8,000 folks.
“It’s so joyful when Albanian folks come to us asking for our qabili pulaw and lobia. I really feel this area helps us construct a relationship with the Albanians who’ve been so good to Afghans and welcomed us with open arms,” Atakpal mentioned, including that she hoped their little restaurant-within-a-restaurant leaves a optimistic legacy of Afghans who handed via Albania of their time of disaster.
They’ve utilized for asylum in america and Canada, nevertheless it might take so long as a 12 months to be accepted.
For Afghans, the small area has turn out to be a conduit to a different world, the place they collect over acquainted flavours to debate the information from again house.
“We get clients, Afghans from all walks of life, from throughout tribes and provinces, sharing a typical loss and sorrow. It helps carry the group collectively,” Atakpal mentioned. “It has been such a optimistic area, that typically when the restaurant is shut, folks come in search of us to ask after we will open,” she added.
Regardless of its recognition, the four-month-old enterprise has not but made a lot revenue. The truth is, there are days once they barely meet prices. However the girls insist that the concept of this enterprise was by no means to make income, fairly to assist Afghans in exile address the trauma they face. “Our greatest revenue is that our folks come and luxuriate in their time right here and have their meals.
As an example, many Afghan children are used to consuming solely Afghan meals, and once they go to us, the happiness on their face whereas devouring one among our delicacies, is all the things for me,” Atakpal mentioned.
However, there may be one other group of Afghan kids that Atakpal hopes to serve via the restaurant – a gaggle of 45 younger women, who’re youngster labourers, enrolled in a small non-public faculty that Atakpal based final 12 months, in Kabul.
“We needed to shut the college when the Taliban took over, however restarted 4 months in the past. Nonetheless, now we have been compelled underground and all actions are actually held discreetly,” Atakpal mentioned, talking passionately about wanting to maintain the college afloat at the same time as the way forward for women’ schooling stays unsure in Afghanistan. She has managed to partially fund the college with the additional earnings she earns by working as a contract journalist and editor.
Regardless of worldwide stress, larger schooling and public universities for Afghan girls have remained closed because the Taliban takeover final 12 months. Whereas the Taliban just lately introduced that colleges and universities for Afghan women would resume in March, many educationists stay sceptical.
In the meantime, underground colleges like Atakpal’s have cropped up throughout the nation, working regardless of stress from native Taliban fighters.
“We now have college students from grade 5 to 10, and canopy all topics in that syllabus. All lecturers are at the moment working as volunteers, and plenty of are my college buddies. Nonetheless, there are bills for colleges provides, and likewise we compensate the scholars for his or her time since they’re shedding working hours once they attend the college,” Atakpal defined.
“Presently, the restaurant doesn’t make any income to assist help the college, and I’m working one other job as a journalist to pay for the prices to fund the college,” she mentioned, including that she hoped she will be able to develop her enterprise to finally help the college in Afghanistan.
Neither Atakpal nor Khalil is aware of what their future maintain, as they anticipate asylum affirmation.
“We misplaced all the things, and are again to how issues have been 20 years in the past, the place girls don’t have rights, entry to schooling, there is no such thing as a justice system, there hardly any Afghan journalists left, and individuals are depressing,” Atakpal mentioned.
Khalil’s mom was assassinated by the Taliban in 2020, whereas she and her brother have been attacked throughout a go to to her mum’s grave. Atakpal’s members of the family are nonetheless based mostly in Kabul.
“However even now if issues change, even a bit bit, we’ll each return in a heartbeat. If not, we’ll proceed to work for Afghanistan irrespective of which a part of the world we’re in. We are going to proceed our battle and hope to carry change,” Atakpal mentioned.
In the meantime, each girls hope that their restaurant will proceed even lengthy after they’re gone, saved alive by Afghans who may select to remain.
“If nothing else, we’ll request the proprietor to proceed to maintain a number of the Afghan delicacies on the menu, as a token to our shared experiences,” Atakpal mentioned.