At 49 years old, Inam is starting a new life for herself – for the fourth time. In 2012, she fled Damascus with her four children, first landing in Egypt for a year, then Dubai for another year, before settling in Istanbul in 2014.
Through all the changes and hardships in her life, one thing seemed to stay constant: her passion for food. Inam has been cooking for over 30 years. Cooking is ingrained in her identity – it’s how she holds onto her culture through the transitions in her life. More so, cooking is how Inam communicates and shares her culture and identity, no matter the ebbs and flows of life as a refugee.
Her vast experience in cooking Syrian food, coupled with her passion for fostering a sense of community through sharing food, sparked a business idea.
“Why shouldn’t I make a living out of Syrian cooking? I want to use my experience to support my family financially,” Inam said.
The LIFE Project, Inam said, has been equipping her to do that.
Before she learned about LIFE, Inam had already decided to take her cuisine to the local farmers’ market.
“I had been at the market for only five days, selling my Syrian style falafel from a two-meter-long table. Everyone came over to try it; they came back for seconds. ‘What’s inside? How did you make it?’ costumers would ask,” Inam said of her experience.
The greatest challenges to Inam’s work have to do with her gender and being unfamiliar with the Turkish market, she said. “[In Syria] falafel is a food a man makes, but I’m doing it as a woman – a Syrian woman in Turkey.”
Inam has a point: Turkey is the single largest host of refugees and migrants in the world, with close to 4 million refugees from Syria, plus tens of thousands of refugees and migrants from other parts of the world. While Syrians are quick to point to the generosity of the Turkish government and people, the large influx of communities in need has had its strain on communities.
That’s why the LIFE Project emphasizes supporting food entrepreneurs from refugee, migrant and host communities – Inam get support alongside colleagues from Turkey, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan and elsewhere. She said she especially appreciates the sense of comradery within the LIFE community. With the supportive network she has the confidence to pursue her business goals, despite the odds stacked against her.
Inam, like many other food entrepreneurs in Istanbul, is driven to bring something new to the Turkish table. She said that the LIFE Project has encouraged her to continue to build her business through supportive training.
Now, she dreams of her own restaurant space or setting up a catering company. “I want to start with a small, intimate space...Over time I’ll grow it larger and larger.”
By: Nikta Khani