Syrian refugee Ghassan Al Chahada was part of a small group that Oxfam America brought to Donald Trump‘s childhood home last year to “show world leaders the value of a safe, welcoming home for those fleeing unthinkable situations.” The video of refugees talking about the American dream inside Trump’s former abode in Queens, New York has been viewed more than 26,400 times.
Now the Maryland resident is participating in a dinner series hosted by Komeeda at Mama Ayesha’s in Adams Morgan. Komeeda is a New York-based company that hosts dining events, including a Displaced Kitchens series that empowers recently resettled refugees to tell their stories over a shared meal. Often the refugees do the cooking. Co-founder Nasser Jab says Komeeda has fed 2,000 people across the country through refugee-related events and they’re looking to ramp up activity in D.C.
The twin dinners that fall during Ramadan cost $75 per person for a tasting menu and soft drinks. The menu includes dates, hummus, tabbouleh, chicken makloubeh, and more. The meals last from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Tickets are on sale for May 28 and for June 11. Mama Ayesha’s is a Middle Eastern restaurant that was founded in 1960 by Jerusalem-born Ayesha Abraham. According to Jab, the proceeds from each dinner go to the refugee after the restaurant’s cost is covered.
The New York Times described the Displaced Kitchens series meals as a “business card” of sorts. “The dinners aren’t just generating income, they’re providing access too,” Jab explains.
It all started with a call from the United Nations. The organization asked Jab, who is from Palestine, to assist a Syrian refugee in New York. “When refugees get accepted into the U.S., they get plugged into social services. But in New York, that’s only $200 a month. I came up with the idea to have them cook and tell their story so they can earn money. Celebrities started coming to the dinners and it grew.”
Al Chahada and his family will be at Mama Ayesha’s (1967 Calvert St. NW) for the May 28 dinner. A different refugee will host the June 11 dinner. Komeeda provided Al Chahada’s biography below.
Ghassan Al Chahada is a Syrian refugee who was resettled in Franklin, Maryland with his wife and three children in November 2015. He fled Syria in December 2012 after two of his brothers were kidnapped by the Syrian army. He smuggled his family into Beirut and from there, went to Egypt. In Egypt, his family was detained for not having legal status and they escaped prison seeking support and protection from the United Nations. The UN deemed them eligible for resettlement in the U.S. and began their vetting process. They were almost in the clear with the vetting process, and were merely waiting for the results of their health physical to come back clear when Al Chahada discovered that his wife was pregnant at the time and they could not be resettled until she gave birth. Once the baby was born, they had to go through the vetting process again and finally received approval. Before getting on their flight to the U.S., the Egyptian government had blacklisted them; which meant they had to report to prison again and could not leave the country. The UN intervened, and after a couple of months in further limbo, they were able to come to the U.S. The vetting process took over two years for them to complete. He works for a computer technology company and his children are attending local schools.