Whoever says cooking is strictly a women’s affair sure hasn’t met the ever efficient and proudly African Ahmed Jama, the exceptional restaurateur and the owner of “The Village” restaurant in Mogadishu, Somali.
Ahmed attended culinary school in the United Kingdom, and is known to be a good natured, intelligent and tolerant man. His love for cooking propelled him to open his first restaurant in London, which became an extremely successful venture. Years later, he had an urge to return to his home country Somali which was seen at the time as one of the world’s most dangerous cities.
In 2008, the brave entrepreneur opened his first restaurant in Somali which he called “The Village.” While in Somali, Ahmed constantly saw what no one else could see; he saw hope and stability in the midst of violence, strife, destruction, instability and depravity. That’s a man moved by love; love for his dear country.
Ahmed was willing to lay down everything, just to put smiles on the faces of his people. In his words; “The only reason why I came here is to change the lives of the people who don’t have somewhere to work and people who have been locked indoors and they don’t have anywhere to go and socialize…….Basically, what I am looking for is to show them, yes! You can laugh when you finish work, university, office work, wherever you are, you have somewhere to go. I believe strongly that our unselfish effort to bring cheer to others is actually, the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.”
This might explain the cheerfulness and glow that lightens the eyes of this slender Somali entrepreneur whose goal is to achieve a broad cultural change and social reform in his country.
Four years after Ahmed set up his Somali restaurant, September 20 2012 precisely, the unexpected happened; it was a busy day in “The Village”, and Ahmed’s usual customers were enjoying their delicious meals and the regular political chit-chat when two men suddenly entered and detonated a suicide vest, which killed 14 people and injured 20 others. The incident was extremely devastating especially for Ahmed, yet he refused to be discouraged and instead grew in strength and will; vowing that he will never stop trying to pursue his goal to lead Mogadishu, alongside others, into a new era. Yes! That’s the African spirit, Africa never gives up.
Shortly after the attack, the valiant entrepreneur renovated the restaurant and went back to business. According to him, “In the days following the explosion, I went into the kitchen, I was in the kitchen cooking; I showed them I’m not going to give up. I showed them I’m still wanting to stay here.”
He also strengthened security at his other restaurants; his restaurant in the Hodan district is probably the only seafood shack in the world with its own guard tower. The idea is to make his customers feel safe and relaxed. What seemed impossible to many has now been made possible by a conscious act of bravery, persistence and most of all love.
A writer once said “uncommon achievers are different, in a doubting world, they believe. In a slow world, they run. In a crying world, they laugh and in a quitting world, they persevere.”
A Somali business man had this to say, “I cannot even explain what happened in Somali. The worst of the worst happened here, there wasn’t a decent café to be found in Mogadishu during the civil war. People wolfed down their food, oblivious to palate, and ran home because they were afraid. I remember when Jama started here, I used to say, please don’t do it, it’s not a good place, but he said, “listen, somebody has to start to do it. I have to create a place where people can come and talk decent. Let us do something different.” And he did it.”
Ahmed has opened three more thriving restaurants in Mogadishu; each of them is called “The Village”, same as the one in London. This great Entrepreneur has done pretty well for himself, his dear country, Africa and the world in general.
The high regard for taste and excellence in “The Village” is extremely admirable, and ensures that the customers always want to come back. Plates and spoons, forks and knives, spices and seasoning all working together with the master of the area to achieve an unbeatable delicacy.
A visit to “The Village” restaurant is a reconnection with delicious, authentic Somali cuisine, which is an intersection of tastes and aroma from the Middle East, Ethiopia, Italy and even Persia. A meal at The Village starts with a Salad of Shrimp, Onion, Lime and strips of Chapatti bread. A fillet of fresh Kingfish over charcoal and spiced with light green-chilli sauce and then well spiced rice garnished with Peas, Carrots, Cinnamon, Raisins, Cardammon and Green pepper.
There are also Somali dishes like Soor (Sorghum mash), Canjeelo(Somali pancakes) and Camel meat. Hmmmm… yummy!! The thought of these delicacies could make anyone hungry.
Every meal in The Village is always local and fresh, as it’s actually difficult to get processed food in Mogadishu. Despite the challenges and difficulties, Ahmed still stands strong, doing what he knows to do best; cooking and making people happy. The determined man is now a leader in the city’s radical transformation and also an inspiration for other Somali experts to return home and start up their own businesses. Ahmed epitomizes the spirit of reformation and rebirth in a city that has been bludgeoned by war and violence.
Obstacles can’t stop you, problems can’t stop you, most of all, people can’t stop you. The only one who stops you is yourself. Refuse to stop yourself and see how far you’ll go. If Ahmed could defy the challenges and obstacles, you too can, remember we are all Africans; Africa does not give up.
Editors Note: A few days ago, on 7 September 2013, a militant group bombed the restaurant, leaving at least 15 dead and 20 more wounded; Jama intends to keep going. You can donate to help rebuild the restaurant and help his employees and their families here:gofundme.com/rebuildthevillage