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The Birth of “Zafaron”

By March 4, 2020Uncategorized

RealTime’s Khuraki Celebrates a Refugee Group’s Business Launch

From Artistic Director Molly Rice:

This past Sunday, the paperwork for Zafaron Afghan Cuisine LLC was submitted to the State of PA. The five Afghan female refugees that RealTime has been working with since 2018 on Khuraki have officially FORMED THEIR CATERING BUSINESS— they goal they set out to achieve, and the goal around which our show was created. It is a worker-owned cooperative, one of only about 500 in the country, I am told.

I am so full of pride and admiration right now I can hardly stand it.

I can’t tell you how much work and willingness and drive and courage this has taken on their part. But I will give you some idea.

Captured at Sprezzatura in Millvale on 03 23, 2019 by Heather Mull Photography.

In the past year, these women, most of whom had very little English and who had recently escaped extreme personal danger in their country, have

  • Gotten training and experience in commercial kitchens.
  • Gone to 8 weeks of classes at the Center for Women’s Enterpreneurship at Chatham about business ownership and food business. IN ENGLISH. (Most just started speaking English a few years ago at most. Some had very little education back home to build on so are starting from scratch.)
  • Three studied for and earned their Serv Safe Certification IN ENGLISH.
  • Catered six events, including Khuraki shows and parties, mastering on- and off-site serving.
  • Taken a course with Ron Gaydos and Eva Hui of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Cooperatives to establish their worker-owned business model and agreement. IN ENGLISH.
  • Created a catering menu full of foods they love that deeply reflects their home culture.
  • Shared highly personal stories about their experience and culture that we have weaved in to Khuraki to share with you all, along with their food.
  • Learned to do talkbacks and interviews for the public (IN ENGLISH), to speak of their experiences, their wishes, their plans.
Haida from Zafaron, in training with the Pittsburgh Chamber of Cooperatives

This is all while balancing ESL classes, community college, work, childbirth and care, navigating the bus system, taking driving lessons, and negotiating a new language and culture every step of the way. I have watched them do it, and even I can’t imagine what it has taken.

For a time, when they were adolescents becoming young women, the Taliban rulers in their country systematically ERASED THEM from public life. They were not allowed to work, go to school, even LEAVE THE HOUSE without a full-body covering and a man at their sides. They were being told, we don’t want you to exist.

And here they are, the five of them equal partners in a business enterprise that will showcase the creativity of their cooking, something they’ve been doing their whole lives to nurture others. But now it’ll help sustain themselves and their families in a new way. They like to say of themselves, “five fingers make a fist.” All the fingers are different, but they are all necessary, they say. Little by little, they felt they could do this thing if they did it together. So they did it. “Drop by drop, we make a river.”

The women in class at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham

I can’t even come close to listing everyone who helped them get here. So many, I am sure I will forget some and I may not even know about others:
Sallyann Kluz, Neighborhood Allies, The Pittsburgh Foundation, Becky Johnson, Karen Hart, Allie Reefer, Uma Ta Honoria, Ariel McKeown, Ally Conner, Liana Wool, Jen Saffron, New Sun Rising, Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, Temple Sinai, City of Asylum, Union Project, Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Hazel Leroy, Sarah Carleton, Jenn Stover, Jen Schaupp, Carol Mullen, Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship @ Chatham (CWE), everyone at Literacy Pittsburgh, Ron and Eva of Pittsburgh Chamber of Cooperatives, Michelle Yanefski, Capital Cathedral, Ineffable Cà Phê, Millvale Community Library, La Dorita Kitchen Share, Aldo’s Foodservice Inc., Bill O’Driscoll, Rebecca Sodergren, Bob Studebaker, the entire cast and crew of Khuraki past and present (including Kelly Trumbull, Tressa Glover, Krystal Rivera, Shakara Wright, Alison Weisgall, Alex Manalo (and her mom Leilani), Ashley Loren Williams, Emma Wagner DeFrange, Annette Banks, For Good PGH, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, Kristen Maser Michaels, Emily Gallagher, Jennifer Sternick, Theresa Abalos, Evan Tegley, Elsa Santos and Azorean Cafe, CobblerWorld, Matt Fawcett, Avery Rausch, Sarah Sokolowski and Zev Woskoff, the entire Afghan community and the women’s husbands and children in particular, EVERY SINGLE PERSON who donated to their seed money fund in the first run of the show, and EVERY PITTSBURGH AUDIENCE MEMBER who listened with deep attention to the stories they were initially afraid to tell.

Haida at La Dorita Kitchen Share, with Mantu

You said, You exist. We want you here. We insist that you be here. And they heard you. Their business is proof of that.

Embedded in this story is an American dream that I was pretty sure was dead. But there it is, glimmering at the bottom of the river they’ve made, drop by drop. You can still come here and start over. You can still find opportunity here, even if you have been oppressed elsewhere. Ours is a country worth saving, people.

And yes, please come to the show. By hearing their stories, you’re part of the Dream. I don’t want you to miss this important moment in these new Americans’ lives.

Plus, the food is DELICIOUS.