Freddie arrived in Bulgaria from Iraq 15 years ago. When asked why he abandoned Baghdad where he was born, he smashed his cigarette butt for a few long seconds, looked through the window and quietly said so as not to be overheard, “This is not important anymore.”
"I am a Catholic, my wife is an orthodox Christian. We arrived in Bulgaria with our two children. After so much suffering we had been waiting for a single smile and nothing else and unexpectedly we found it here. We liked Bulgaria. I saw love in these people. We could stay and work here. Why should we go to another country? Nobody is asking here what your religion is."
At arrival Freddie had money enough to guarantee the wellbeing of his family for a year. He went to the catholic cathedral in the Bulgarian capital Sofia to look for assistance to find a job.
"I will always be grateful to the people I met. Many offered me money but I refused it. I took some clothes for the children and cooking utensils. Our mother tongue is Aramaic, the language spoken by our god. I was asked to contribute to religious ceremonies in the church by saying prayers in Aramaic and I agreed."
When people realized that Freddie was a good cook, they started requesting him to prepare food for catering and recommended him to friends. Freddie regularly visited the markets to buy the products he needed for cooking and thus he established contacts with local traders. He started cooking as a full time job and was even been promoted to a chef in a prestigious restaurant.
With a little help from friends, Freddie opened his own restaurant offering Iraqi cuisine. He named it Ashurbanipal after one of the greatest rulers of the ancient Assyrian Empire. Soon the place attracted a large number of Bulgarians amazed by Freddie’s meals. The restaurant also emerged as a meeting point for the Iraqi community in Sofia.
"I can proudly say that my customers wait for me to open the restaurant and it is not me waiting for them to enter. How did I become a cook? Well, I served as a soldier in the Iraqi army for 13 years. My comrades knew I could cook the best lentil soup. Once, after intensive training sessions they asked me to prepare it and accidentally, a bowl of my soup was served to the commanding officer as well. The next day, he sent a messenger to ask who had prepared the soup. None of the guys said anything because access to the kitchen was forbidden for ordinary soldiers. But the messenger was insistent. I confessed it was me to avoid punishment for all the squad. Surprisingly, the same day I was assigned as a chef at the army headquarters. The lentil soup saved me from being sent to the frontline to kill people or to get killed. This is how my ‘career’ as a cook started."