Laila Ayubzai arrived in Lincoln on Sept. 15, 2000, coming from Afghanistan after her husband was killed by the Taliban.
A widow with six children – a baby in her arms – she still remembers her first night in America at a hotel in New York City … the taste of Pepsi, a rare treat … how her kids each received a dinner box which she told them to ration.
“We had run away from war,” she explains. “I was a single mom with no money, no luggage … It was one of the best nights of my life.”
The next day her family boarded a plane bound for Nebraska, a place she was told was the heart of America.
Twenty years later she is fluent in English, her children have graduated from high school and have jobs, she and her sons have launched a local food truck called The Corner Kitchen, and she is giving back by helping a new wave of Afghan refugees.
“I tell new Afghans that I know this pain. I had this pain inside … But they cannot think in the back, they must think into the future,” she shares. “Be strong. It’s not easy to leave your country behind, but someday they will be sitting in a good place with an open heart and with food on the table.”
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In the last few months, Ayubzai has been taking new Afghan families on errands for groceries, the doctor, the drugstore. “I am doing as much as I can.”
She remembers when she was first learning English and struggling to survive in a foreign land – raising her children while patching together a livelihood.
“I did not do this alone,” she says. “I thank Catholic Social Services and Lutheran Family Services – and specifically Lincoln Literacy, for so many new opportunities.”
Ayubzai says she has a simple message for Lincoln: “I pray for Afghanistan, and I hope you will join me. But I want to say thanks, America. I love America. This is now my home.”
For information about The Corner Kitchen, go to: www.facebook.com/thecornerkitchen2020/community.