Mere survivors or real héros?


After a month long wait, two weekends ago, Karthik and I were fortunate to get reservations at this Ethiopian restaurant “Addis Abeba” in Barcelona, which we’d been waiting to go for almost a month now. Finally, we were lucky to get a nice cozy booth for ourselves and what would follow to be one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in Barcelona. We had a traditional vegetarian Ethiopian meal that was served on a common plate for us to share. Basically, the meal comprises of a millet (dagusa as its called in Ethiopian highlands) based crepe or dosa served with 8-9 different kinds of accompaniments like curries, mashes and salads.

We had somehow expected the meal to be a lot more spicy and hence, asked for additional spices. The owner of the restaurant came over and handed us bowls of spice mix and green chillies since he said the food was made to suit European palette. I wonder if its the same rational for north indian food becoming more popular than south indian food across the world (apart from the fact that more people from the North Indian subcontinent live in Europe in comparison to the South). I remember my flatmates not being able to appreciate anna saaru as much as roti daal!

We got chatting with the owner of the restaurant as he gave us a little intro to the cuisine and culture. We exchanged commonalities and differences between African and Indian cuisine and he remarked that the market for his cuisine would be a lot thinner in India given that sharing food, eating with hands, taste of the food, etc would not be of as much novelty value as it is in Europe. While we tried to casually convince him to set up a restaurant in Bangalore, it broke my heart to remember all the racist attacks on Africans in India. So, I gave up because I knew we had place for a new cuisine back home but no place in our hearts for these people or their culture. Sigh!

When I asked the owner how he had come about to starting an Ethiopian restaurant all the way in Barcelona, his answer left me a bit dumb founded. He told us he’d been thrown out of his country, Ethiopia, where he was born and raised. When Ethiopia and Eritrea separated in 1993, he was made to leave his country, Ethiopia since he was Eritrean. Having had nothing to keep him rooted to Eritrea, he received an invitation to come to Barcelona where his sister lived working for a Catalan family (Back in the times when one could afford full-time household help in Europe). With the help of this family and after several years of hard work, he managed to set up this restaurant “Adis Abeba” in Sants while his sister runs another restaurant in Gracia.

I could not understand what being thrown out of one’s own country even meant. The whole time that he was sharing his story, he was smiling and I kept wondering how anyone who had been through so much could possibly have any happiness left in them let alone share it with others. I had always wondered why so many people from China, Pakistan or Bangladesh had migrated to Barcelona to make a living here leaving their families and home countries. It had never occurred to me that these people were survivors of terrible fate and selling bags near Placa Catalunya or roses on La Ramblas was never a choice. I started to wonder if this chap from the restaurant was not merely a survivor, but a hero who had made a name for his country in another.

While I am immensely proud of the line of Indian CEOs who head global businesses across the world, I wonder if any of them did it because they didn’t have a choice but to try and survive!




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