From Afghanistan To U.S., A Lesson In Love — One Thanksgiving At A Time

Nov 25, 2016
Originally published on November 25, 2016 7:44 am

Saboor Sahely grew up in Laghman, Afghanistan, with a large extended family.

"I vividly remember there was a lot of happiness and joy in eastern Afghanistan," Sahely, 65, tells his youngest daughter, Jessica. On a recent visit with StoryCorps, he tells her about the lessons of community he learned there.

"If there was a wedding, the entire village would show up. And you felt very welcomed to go into each other's homes, and we knew who had what for dinner every night and if we didn't like what we had for dinner, we all went to the neighbor's house."

It was from one of those neighbors, the older woman next door, that Sahely first learned of the United States. Her grandson was a student there. And more and more, he would think about the stories she told him.

"I kept thinking, you know, I'm gonna figure out a way to get to this faraway magic land someday," he says.

Then came war. In the late 1970s, when violence broke out in Afghanistan, Sahely's father wanted him to leave the country. His father feared things there would only get worse.

So, in 1978, Sahely immigrated to the U.S., where he eventually found work.

"One Sunday, I came to this restaurant," he recalls. "I walk in there. The dishwasher hadn't shown up, and the manager asked me when can I start, and I said right away. I did that for a few months and he moved me on as a — I became a cook — and then assistant manager."

In 1983, Sahely opened a restaurant of his own, which he called Angie's. He says he and his staff treat the customers — some of whom eat three meals a day there — as if they're family. If regulars don't show up, he says they'll call to make sure they're OK.

"We go to their funerals, we go to their weddings," he says. "These people put shoes on my children's feet and they deserve the best. So, we should turn around and give something back every single chance we get."

Even in the U.S., he bears with him the lessons of community he learned so well in Afghanistan: "My grandmother, she knew that most of the village did not have enough to eat. So whatever we had for dinner every night, she made sure that she'll have a plateful that I had to carry to different homes."

He carries the same principle forward in Logan, Utah — especially on Thanksgiving.

"So when I was in a position to give something back, we thought on Thanksgiving Day we're going to open our doors to anybody and everybody," he says. "Last year, for instance, we had over 800 people that come to the door."

Thursday marked the 26th year Sahely and his restaurant staff provided free Thanksgiving dinner to their local community. And he has no intention stopping soon.

"We're very, very lucky. And I don't take that for granted at all."

Produced for Morning Edition by Von Diaz.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is Friday, time for StoryCorps. And we have a story about giving back. Saboor Sahely grew up in Afghanistan with a large extended family. In 1978, he decided to move to the United States. And here he talks with his youngest daughter, Jessica, about coming to America and the Afghan traditions he brought with him.

SABOOR SAHELY: I vividly remember there was a lot of happiness and joy in eastern Afghanistan. If there was a wedding, the entire villages would show up. And you felt very welcome to going to each other's homes. And we knew who had what for dinner every night. And if we didn't like what we had for dinner, we always went to the neighbor's house.

JESSICA SAHELY: (Laughter).

SAHELY: So the summers are very, very hot. Everyone slept on the rooftop. And I vividly remember this old lady next door to us that would talk every night about her grandson, a student in the United States. That's when I heard the name of a country called America.

I kept thinking, you know, I'm going to figure out a way to get to this far-away, magic land someday. Then Afghanistan basically plunged into a long civil war. And my father wanted me to leave the country because he knew that things are going to get worse.

SAHELY: So what did you do for work here?

SAHELY: One Sunday, I came to this restaurant. I walk in there. And the dishwasher hadn't shown up. And the manager asked me, when can I start? And I said, right away. I did that for a few months. And he moved me on, as I became a cook and then assistant manager.

After that, we opened the restaurant. And we've treated every single customer as if they were part of our family. We have many regulars that eat three meals a day in our restaurant. And if they don't show up, we call them to make sure they're OK. We go to their funerals. We go to their weddings. These people have put shoes on my children's feet. And they deserve the best.

So we should turn around and give something back every single chance we get. You know, my grandmother - she knew that most of the village did not have enough to eat. So whatever we had for dinner every night - she'd made sure that you had a plateful that I had to carry to different homes.

So when I was in a position to give something back, we thought, on Thanksgiving Day, we're going to open our doors to anybody and everybody. Last year, for instance, we had over 800 people that come to the door. We're very, very lucky. And I don't take that for granted at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: That's Saboor Sahely and his daughter Jessica in Logan, Utah. This is the 26th year they provided free Thanksgiving dinner to their community. Their StoryCorps conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.