Columbus is a city that’s home to thousands of immigrants. In conjunction with WOSU-TV's documentary Columbus Neighborhoods - New Americans, 89.7 is profiling immigrants who have settled here. In the latest installment of 89.7’s New American Voices series, WOSU's Sam Hendren profiles Noorgul Dada who came here from Afghanistan.
Noorgul Dada was only nine when his family fled the turmoil in Afghanistan. That was 30 years ago. They went first to Pakistan before coming to Columbus in 1986. Noorgul would go on to earn an electrical engineering degree from Ohio State. He says his childhood in the Afghan village of Kama is a distant memory.
“There was no electricity. There was no running water. The house that we lived in was a mud house,” Dada says.
Worse was the Russian oppression of the region. Dada says troops stationed across the river often shelled his village without provocation.
“I remember vividly a couple of times where I was actually shot at by aircraft but luckily I survived. But fear was always there, especially the helicopters hovering above our heads at any time,” he says.
Life in Columbus is a far cry from those terrifying days. He’s been back to the Middle East on occasion but he has no desire to return permanently.
“This is home. We actually came at a time where we were blessed because the Americans at that time perceived the Afghans as a people that stood up against the Russians and Communism. So the Americans, they accepted us with open arms,” Dada says.
Today this husband and father of four works for American Electric Power; he owns an OSU-area restaurant and serves on the board of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center.
“My religion has really made me who I am. I am a devout Muslim. Islam really gives an individual some tools that he can use in his everyday life to have a good perspective on what’s going on around him and at the same time, see if he can make a difference in that,” Dada says.
Noorgul says he wants to give back to the community. That’s why he and his family stayed here.
“I’m an individual. You know, if I can’t make a difference, give back to the community, I don’t want to be in that community and that is one of the reasons I’ve decided to stay here; because we feel like we are a part of the American society; we feel like we are contributing. We are making America better,” he says.
From time to time Noorgul Dada preaches at local mosques. Often he lends a hand at the restaurant he opened just north of the Ohio State campus.
“We are in Gyro and Kabob House, formerly known as Café Kabul,” Dada says.
The café is tucked into a plaza at the corner of Ackerman and Olentangy River Roads.
“The range of food that we serve is Mediterranean, Afghan, and Indian. And the unique thing that we have here is that we actually are kind of in the middle between the Middle East and India so we take the spices of India and put it in the Mediterranean food and give it a little bit better flavor,” he says.
One of Noorgul’s specialties is lamb on a bed of imported rice. The flavors are delicate and delicious.
“One of our unique dishes is called Kabuli Pallow and basically it’s a slow cooked lamb. And then we mix it with raisins, carrots and rice and that is a very authentic Afghan dish,” Dada says.
Columbus Neighborhoods - New Americans airs on WOSU-TV January 18th. Support for New American Voices comes from Ohio Humanities.