Our chefs have moved to Missoula from all over the world—Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Syria. Take a moment to learn more about their stories and why cooking is so special to them. They have each enriched our community and we are so grateful that they share their incredible food with us.
Farida Abdul Aziz
Farida learned to cook from her grandmother and holds dear the many memories of working in the kitchen alongside her and her mother to prepare meals for their family, as well as frequent guests. She has always valued the time preparing and enjoying meals as a time to connect and talk with her children. Cooking is the way she shows the love and care she has to give for the people closest to her—her family, her children, and now you!
Having fled Afghanistan in 2014 to seek asylum in the US, Farida hasn't seen her children since then. Following the approval of her asylum case, she now works hard on being reunited with her children whom she misses dearly. She feels that cooking with United We Eat has brought her joy and purpose as she has traveled this difficult road. With a kind and generous heart, she loves to share her culture and meet new people through cooking, and believes food can bring cultures and people closer.
Sahar is from Baghdad, Iraq and arrived in Missoula with her husband and two sons in March 2017. Her mother taught her everything in the kitchen when she was a young girl, growing up in a large family with seven other siblings. With this foundation, she continued to learn on her own as an adult because she enjoyed it so much. She loves that her cooking makes people happy and she feels confident and proud of her abilities to make a wonderful meal that she can share with friends and family. In the US, she feels an added benefit of being able to share her culture and hospitality with new friends that have come to be like family.
Here in Montana, she loves to spend time playing with her sons at Bonner Park and exploring other places in the state with family and friends, such as Flathead Lake. She would personally like to extend overwhelming gratitude to Tami and Jim Adams, and Kim and Mike Keast for their guidance and friendship since arriving in Missoula.
Wasan Amer has lived in Missoula with her husband and 2 young sons since October, 2016. Wasan’s mother was a spectacular cook and educator who began teaching Wasan how to cook all meals from scratch at 5 years of age, and they continued to cook together through the years. Wasan, who is also a teacher, finds great joy in cooking because she sees the joy it brings to others. While cooking for her family is very important to her, she is also excited to share with others as a way to connect with people through food and culture. Wasan believes that by sharing our food we share feelings and emotions, we create a shared history and the feeling that we are the same people.
Wasan and her husband Waleed have always felt the warmth of Missoulians since the moment they stepped off of the plane. She hopes people understand that her cooking is a means of expressing her appreciation to the people of Missoula and the people who support and love her family. One day Wasan hopes to open a small, mission driven restaurant to share her love of cooking and also serve underprivileged Missoulians.
Shatha Abdelbr and her husband Mohammed Kulof are originally from Homs, Syria and have lived with their son and daughter in Missoula since 2017.
As a teenager, Shatha began to cook with her mother. Traditional and popular Syrian dishes, such as vegetable dolmas, are her favorite foods to prepare and she loves developing the aromas, flavors, and textures popular in Syria. When she creates a meal Shatha hopes those she feeds will find her food to be a delicious culinary experience and that everyone will have a good time around the shared table.
Sewing is another one of Shatha’s passions. She taps into that through her work at a tailor’s shop in Missoula where her detail oriented and refined skills are noticed, bringing her frequent praise. Shatha is often found in her spare time at home behind her sewing machine. Though winters are a bit colder and snowier than she prefers, she has found the people of Missoula to be warm and the summers beautiful.
Ghalia Ahmad Fayz Almasri
Ghalia was born with a passion for cooking. As a young child in Damascus, she often observed her mother preparing food in the kitchen and always asked questions about the process. When she was about 13, Ghalia began cooking with her mother and together they prepared delicious meals for the family. Today, she still loves cooking for her family and her friends in Missoula. Seeing the happiness others experience when eating her food is a great source of happiness for her.
Ghalia, her husband Shadi, and their two sons arrived in Missoula in January of 2017, in the middle of a record setting winter- a photo of 2 bundled up boys hangs in their living room! The newest member of their family is a joyful baby girl who joined them after their arrival in Missoula. She enjoys the attention of her older brothers who love to dote on her. Ghalia and her family enjoy the friendly atmosphere in Missoula. “At first when I was on the street people greeted me and asked about me and where I was from,” she says, “they were interested. People here are very nice.”
Zohair grew up in Lahore, Pakistan. When he wasn’t playing cricket, he could be found stirring the pots in his family’s kitchen. Both of his parents cooked and had unique cooking styles that influence his recipes today. Zohair believes that food has the power to bring people together and is a great way to introduce others to his culture. In Pakistan, many people show love and affection by sharing food. “No one leaves the table till they are beyond full,” Zohair says, “and even then someone might sneak more food onto your plate.” He hopes to share the culture of Pakistan with every person he cooks for, and you can taste the beautifully combined spices and layers of flavor in each bite.
Zohair moved to the U.S. in 2006 to attend the University of Montana with the support of his parents and three older brothers. Many years later, he still loves everything there is to love about Missoula. “The people in the community, everything to do outdoors, and inclusiveness are the biggest reasons why I have not left this amazing town.” His wife is also an avid foodie, and together they enjoy trying new recipes and inviting friends and family over to share meals. He dedicates his delicious cooking to his parents and his community.
Merry is originally from Asmara, Eritrea and arrived in Missoula in 2017. Her mom taught her to cook as a young adult. She cooks because she believes it’s important to feed people while maintaining cultural traditions. “We [Eritreans] cook for anyone and everyone,” she says with a smile, “we don’t ask people if they want food, we serve them.” Eritrean food is rooted in warmth and spice and she enjoys sharing its unique and fresh flavors.
Merry has found a welcoming home here in Missoula and is excited to continue to meet new friends. She enjoys gathering at friends’ houses and sharing food, coffee, and conversation.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Rita moved to Missoula in 2019 with her younger sister and grandmother. She’s from Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and learned how to cook from her mom and dad. She’s been cooking for her family since she was 8 years old. Because of her skills in the kitchen, when she was in school she was chosen to help cook for over 100 people.
Cooking makes her happy, and she believes that food is one of the main things that makes people happy. “I feel happy when I am cooking, and I feel free,” she says. She cooks what she knows, and what she trusts, and produces delicious results. Rita likes Missoula because people here are friendly, and the town is quiet, not loud. It’s a good place to live.
Takea moved to Missoula May of 2017 with her husband and two kids. She is from Teseney, Eritrea. Her mom taught her to cook when she was fourteen, and now she is teaching her own kids how to cook. Her son loves her food, her daughter sometimes does. Takea loves to cook Eritrean food, and worked as a cook in a small cafeteria in Sudan before coming here. Her favorite thing is to cook injera. She likes Missoula, and really likes the people here.
THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Safi Wakusolela arrived in the US in July 2019 with her husband, Gabriel, and five kids. Originally from Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Safi learned how to cook from her mother, which is traditional in Congolese culture. Safi went to a six month culinary training program in Goma, and later opened a small restaurant in Tanzania. She loves when people appreciate and enjoy her food. She likes to cook for friends. When Gabriel’s friends come over and she feeds them, they say, “Your lady knows how to cook.”
Safi is grateful for her family. She says, “Praise the Lord because he gave her a good husband who helped her with many things, and he gave her four daughters and one son.”
In addition to cooking, Safi is a preacher of the gospel, and she loves to sing gospel music. She had an album out before she came to Missoula, and would like to continue singing. Her other skills include braiding hair. She is excited to do all that she can to continue to settle into Missoula and help develop Missoula.
Hayat Arbasha, her husband, Ahmad, and their three kids arrived in the US in September of 2020 from Jordan. Originally from Damascus, Syria, Hayat was looking forward to moving to Montana, where she expected there would be snow up to her knees. So far, she’s been disappointed with the lack of snow, but she likes Missoula otherwise.
Hayat learned to cook from her mother when she was 15 years old, and she loves to cook. She likes to cook everything, but making Syrian food is her favorite. She looks forward to welcoming another little boy in the spring of 2021.
Muna Alkayal moved to Missoula in October of 2020, from Cairo, Egypt. Originally from Damascus, Syria, she loves food, and has loved cooking for a long time. Muna’s mother taught her how to cook when she was 13 years old, and her love for cooking and talents in the kitchen led her to work as a chef in Egypt for seven and a half years. She can whip you up a chicken cordon bleu or spaghetti as easily as she can make tabbouleh or hummus. Muna loves to share her food with everyone, and hopes you enjoy it.
Muna and her family of two girls and four boys (two of whom are still in Egypt) like Missoula, and think the people here are lovely. They have also enjoyed the new climate in Montana, and have welcomed in the snowy winter by having a family snowball fight.
Nickel Lawrence is from Whitehouse, in Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica. He arrived in Missoula in November of 2020. He learned how to cook from his grandmother, as he spent a lot of time with her while his mother sold fried fish. He loves to cook for his friends and his wife, Courtney. He enjoys watching people eat the food he cooks, and gives them a bit of a stare until they tell him if the food is good. He loves to cook over an open fire in a bush kitchen in Jamaica. He appreciates the cleaner air and streets of Missoula, though Jamaica’s pure sunshine is easy to miss.
Oumar Keita is from Conakry, the capital of Guinea. He arrived in the USA in September of 2016. Oumar is a musician, and his mother was a dancer, in a ballet troupe in Guinea. She likes music and singing, and she taught him how to sing and dance, and told him stories. His mother told him that being with other people is better than being by yourself. If you’re with people, your problem will be small. If you don’t have people, your problem will be big.
In addition to his mother, Oumar grew up very close with his aunt, and she taught him how to cook when he was around ten years old. Oumar likes to cook because he likes to eat! He likes to show people that he can feed himself, and feed others too. In Guinean culture, if you share food with someone, it equalizes you.