Cooking from my homeland brought me out of a deep depression.

After coming to the United States, Aho Hatima dealt with immigration issues for more than 10 years. Unable to visit her family or her native home in Turkey, she sank into a deep depression. The kitchen helped him heal when his mother came to Honolulu to cook Ahu his favorite Turkish dishes. After running a farmers market selling Turkish food, he and his mother opened an award-winning restaurant. Istanbul Airport In 2020 Together they cook the foods they love to eat. In this edition of Voices in Food, Aho shares how food saved her.

I came here first as a student, and then I had immigration problems. They didn’t treat me like a human being when I faced immigration issues. I think there’s a reason they call you “strangers”. Looks like you don’t belong here. I think words have very strong meanings, emotional meanings behind them. It was very sad for me.

And I wanted to go back home during that time but my lawyer said that if I left, they would never let me come back again. My immigration problem lasted about 10 or 11 years.

My husband, who is an American citizen, literally sued the United States government for not consulting me and making a decision without any evidence. I can’t sue. I am nobody. So when he filed a civil suit, they came back to us. They just apologized, and they gave me my green card, but they didn’t even reimburse me for my attorney fees or anything like that.

“At one point, [U.S. immigration] Broke my psyche. But I had cooking skills, and I knew how to cook well, so they couldn’t take that away from me.

– Ahu Hatima

And during that time it was very depressing because they took away my identity, my identity card, my work permit. Basically, what they did was take away everything they could. Like I’m not here. So he said, “Your existence is not on paper.” Therefore, you should leave.”

My loved ones that I loved so much, like my grandparents, died, and I couldn’t visit them. I could not see them. I felt like I was stuck.

I couldn’t go to work anywhere, because you are not allowed to work. I couldn’t even get my driver’s license. So, naturally, all of these things disturbed me mentally, and I developed PTSD. I didn’t want to live anymore. After my diagnosis, they put me on really heavy medication to calm my anxiety and depression.

I started having really dark dreams. And this anxiety takes hold of you, it takes hold of your heart, and you start to feel very hopeless about life.

My mom came to Honolulu, and she said, “This is not the way to live. We’re going to make you the meals you like. We’re going to work through this together.” She brought spices and all the food that I like to eat. She cooked me lentil soup which I love. She baked me fresh baklava which I love. He made Turkish Delights for me. She made all these turkey breakfast dishes for me.

“I guess there’s a reason they call you ‘strangers’. It’s like you don’t belong here.”

– Ahu Hatima

We started cooking together, and I started to feel good because I was eating really good food. –we were going to farmers markets to pick up our produce and ingredients. We started cooking so much because I felt so good while I was doing it, and we couldn’t eat all the food, so we shared it with our neighbors.

One of my neighbors told me, “We need food like this in Honolulu. Nobody is eating high-end Mediterranean, Middle Eastern food. He said, “Why don’t you share this food at the farmers market? , because you’re already going to get your produce there.”

My mom had always wanted to own a restaurant, so I said, “Maybe let’s try it.” We opened a tent at the farmers market, we became very popular, and the hobby turned into a business. And I said to myself, “If we’re going to turn this into a business, I need to open the best one in Honolulu.” I found a really good location for my restaurant, and my husband and my dad basically built my restaurant.

At one point, [U.S. immigration] Broke my psyche. It took me time to rebuild, and it made me stronger. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing, because I think I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t gone through all those emotional states. It was almost like they took everything away from me. But I had cooking skills, and I knew how to cook well, so they couldn’t take that away from me. And they couldn’t take away the fact that I wanted to share my culture and my food with the people in Honolulu.

And even though I wasn’t able to go back home, I was able to bring back my memories, with my food. happy memories. I put my grandma’s pancakes on my brunch menu. Whenever I make them, I can go back to the moments she was making for me, and it makes me happy.

So, when I started cooking and sharing all these foods with people, it really helped me. It gave me hope. I realized that life has a lot to offer. It’s not time for me to go. There is much to do in life.

I think every human goes through these moments of anxiety, struggle, negative thoughts, depression. But when you find something that makes you feel good, and you’re able to give meaning to your work, you’ll beat the odds.

I am fully recovered, and I feel great about life. And actually, the problem is, I’m feeling great and there are so many ideas I want to do now, because I feel like I’ve been stuck in my head for a long time. Now my energy is back, and I feel so grateful.

If you or someone you know needs help, dial 988 or call 1-800-273-8255. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also visit and get support via text. Outside the US, please Visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention For the database of resources.


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