Taking Refuge

Samira: From a Chef in Ethiopia to a Hopeful Nurse in America

Last Wednesday, I was invited to attend an event hosted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Silver Spring for International Women's Day. The IRC invited female refugees to come together to share their heritage and celebrate being resilient women. The women brought dishes from their home countries and participated in activities to remember their pasts and share their goals for the future. I was fortunate to meet Samira at this event, a mom, former chef, and future nurse.

March 8, 2016

*Samira spent her last five years in Ethiopia as a single mom and chef. Her daughter and son, both teenagers, attended a private Catholic school, while Samira spent her days cooking for restaurants, weddings, birthdays, and graduations. But beneath this facade of stability, Samira lived in fear.

Her husband was already living in America. He requested and received political asylum, having faced death threats from Ethiopia's government. He was politically involved with the opposition, but Samira hesitated to tell me more. Her mother and other extended family members still live in their home country.

Here's what we do know, however: Freedom House declared Ethiopia "Not Free" in its 2016 rankings - a status the country has maintained for the past five years, down from "Partly Free" in 2010. The classification stems from the government's suppression of free speech, arbitrary arrests of members of the opposition and media, and corruption.

So it is hardly a surprise that Samira's family was in lethal danger for disagreeing with the government's oppressive measures.

After five years as a single mom, Samira and her two children were reunited with their husband/father in America last year. Through broken, but impressive English for someone who has only studied the language for a year, Samira expressed her feelings bluntly:

We didn't like living in Ethiopia. It was hard because we were opposing the government. We are very happy now [in America]. We have a lot of opportunities.

Samira plans to continue studying English and then find a job working as a nurse in a hospital. She still enjoys cooking, but says she doesn't want to cook for large numbers of people anymore. She doesn't have the strength to lift big pots or stand on her feet all day.

Similarly, her daughter, now a junior in high school, plans to study medicine in college and become a doctor. Her goal is to receive an Ivy League education.

Samira's face brightens when she talks about her daughter.

She gets good grades. [Both] my children are happy, so now I'm happy.

*This name has been changed to protect the individual's identity.

Gomen Be Sega (Kale with Lamb)
  • Lamb, cut into small pieces
  • Large bunch of kale, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 red onion
  • Garlic to taste (approximately 3 cloves recommended)
  • Niter kibbeh (this refers to seasoned butter. You can make it yourself, by melting unsalted butter and adding pepper, and a pinch of the following: garlic powder, tumeric, cardamon, nutmeg, cinnamon. Or, as always, get it on Amazon. It's a staple in most Ethopian kitchens.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a Dutch oven or large pot, saute the kale, onion, and garlic in the butter until tender (about 10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the lamb to the Dutch oven and saute until the meat is brown.
  3. Cook covered for 45 minutes to an hour over low-medium heat until the liquid in the pan has evaporated.
  4. Serve hot. Recommended with injera, Ethiopia bread.

During the IRC's International Women's Day program, participants shared their favorite foods and recipes.

Next, they shared why it's great to be a woman.

And finally, they expressed why they celebrate International Women's Day.

Samira made gomen be sega, an Ethiopian dish made from kale and lamb.

Another woman brought injera, Ethiopian bread, which is typically eaten with gomen be sega, as well as numerous other Ethiopian dishes.