For this refugee family, business, as usual isn’t enough

Batulo Mahamed’s three children formed a conveyor belt that never stopped moving Sunday at Concord’s 13th Multicultural Festival.

The food their mom had cooked – flaky, triangular pies, some stuffed with meat, others with vegetables – looked too good to walk past on crowded Capitol Street, with vendors lined up side-by-side, offering a world-wide flavor to show the city’s melting-pot personality, a side to the city that makes Concord’s people puff with pride.

There were dancers with provocative outfits and feathery headdresses, Indian music featuring bongos and delicate-sounding stringed instruments, an international fashion show with rainbows of colorful flowing garments, crafts, jewelry, sunshine, a community trying to understand one another, live together, work together, speak to each other.

And then there were those pies, delicious and impossible to ignore, a product that the matriarch here hopes to one day sell in her very own restaurant, with her very own staff and her very own sense of accomplishment, in a land so very far from her homeland of Somalia.

The line workers, Mahamad Shegow, 11, his sister, 12-year-old Sangabo Shegow, and their 13-year-old brother, Hassan Shegow, used tongs to lift what could have passed for little throw pillows and placed them into small paper trays.

The customers kept coming, the kids kept loading those paper trays and the woman behind this operation, the mother, the refugee who escaped danger in Somalia and uncertainty in Kenya before moving here 15 years ago, watched it all unfold, helping when things got too busy.

And that happened a lot.

“I love it here in Concord,” Batulo told me, minutes before the crowd began funneling down Capitol Street and her free time to talk had ended. “It’s a little start-up selling my own vegetables and then maybe I’ll open my restaurant. They say they love my meat pies.”

She spoke no English when she arrived here from the refugee camp in Kenya, which was at least a little more comfortable than the life she had in Somalia, an impoverished, war-torn African country.

Of Somalia, Batulo told me, “People were hurting other people and taking their food. They’d take your money, but you can’t fight back because they had guns. So we moved to a refugee camp in Kenya.”

There, she had access to food like dried flower, salt and onions. “Kenya was a little less violent,” Batulo said.

Batulo Mahamed (right) with her children, Mahamad (far right), Hassan, and daughter Sangabo at the Multicultural Festival at the State House on Sunday, September 22, 2109.

Her three kids were born here, shortly after Batulo had finished all the required paperwork and received approval from the American government. Some relatives remain in Kenya. For now, Batulo is focused on building a business here, making a better life for her children.

She wants more than the makeshift operation she’s involved with now. She grows her own vegetables at a local farm and sells them personally at a market in Penacook each Monday and to the food program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Concord.

She sells her eggplants and tomatoes and cucumbers at the annual event downtown and earns extra cash cleaning rooms at a local hotel.

And when she appears at a festival like the one in Concord on Sunday, the pies she had prepared the night before are delivered, the lines grow, the kids form their conveyor belt and the customers ask the same thing.

“People want to know, ‘Where do I get it?’ ” Batulo said. “They ask, ‘Do you have a restaurant?’ I tell them, ‘Sorry, you can only get it here once a year, until I open my own restaurant.’ They ask how do I do that and I tell them it’s not that easy. Work needs to be done.”

That’s where people like Jessica Livingston, director of the Concord Multicultural Festival, Paul Morrison of the New Hampshire Food Bank and Laura Miller, the founder and president of Making Matters, enter the picture.

They have a vision for refugees, a plan that one day could bring a permanent community kitchen into the area to help people like Batulo learn the ropes, things like food prep and menu pricing and marketing and culinary training and financing.

Meanwhile, with dancers dancing and music playing and crowds gathered around the statue of Daniel Webster, Batulo and her three kids worked non-stop, their meat and vegetable pies smelling too good to ignore.

Her children , students in the Merrimack Valley School district, speak fluent English. Hassan loves the Patriots and wants to play in the NBA. Sangabo, who wore a pink headband with a Nike swoosh, loves soccer and basketball.

They love their teachers. They love their lives, sometimes reminded by their mother to appreciate what they have, things that Batulo never had herself growing up.

And she’s

not done trying, still hopeful she can open her own business, add to her community, teach her children to tap into their potential.

“One time I had trouble in school and my mom reminded me that I need to try harder,” Hassan said. “I had to try harder to have a better future.”

Source: Concord Monitor