Ahmad Alizada recently spent three years of his life locked in a tiny, windowless cell in Indonesia; with 53 other men. In that time, he only saw sunshine once.
“It was when they took me out to take me to hospital. They handcuffed my arms and my legs. I got sick in the cell because I could barely move.”
Ahmad wasn’t a criminal, but a refugee.
As part of the persecuted Hazara ethnic group in Afghanistan, his family was in constant danger. And then came the war.
“You could see the rockets falling near my house”.
He first fled to Iran, where he faced more discrimination, before climbing a ten-metre razor wire wall to escape into Pakistan. He then made his way through South-East Asia to land in Wagga, before settling in Griffith.
“I am so happy to be in Australia… but I didn’t like Wagga that much, it was too quiet. Griffith is much better. People are so friendly here”.
He’s lived here since 2013, with his wife and two children recently joining him. Now, with the help of various support agencies, he's just opened Griffith’s first ever Afghani eatery – call the Afghan Friendship Restaurant.
“I called it this name because I want to extend friendship to everyone”.
The restaurant, located on Banna Avenue top block, will be open everyday – including up until 10.30pm at night on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
The MIA may be the perfect place for Afghani food – which features lots of rice and wheat.
Ahmad’s restaurant serves the national dish of Qabeli Pulao – lamb or chicken on a bed of yellow rice topped with fried raisins, slivered carrots, and pistachios.
The rice meal is generally served with big, fluffy “naan” bread and washed down with doogh, a savoury yoghurt-based drink.
Joanne Fitzpatrick, Centacare, said, “It’s amazing what Ahmad has been through. And he’s very intelligent, he taught himself English”.
Ahmad’s priority now is to use his enterprise to help his fellow Afghanis – both back home and here in Australia.
“There are many on bridging visas who aren’t allowed to work. They have to spend ten years away from their family. It’s too long,” Ahmad said.
“A number of refugees have been through a lot of trauma, and suffer from sleeping problems and depression,” Joanne said.
Many give back too.
“I’m so happy to be here in Australia because I can now help people a lot of people,” Ahmad said.