The pots steam and the winter sun slips through the back door of the kitchen that the association Saveurs d’Exil (‘Exiled Flavors’) is using today. A team of chefs, each one attending to his task, prepares the dishes that will be part of the menu for the next event. One of the chefs is 28-year-old Othman, a man of average height whose huge smile spreads good cheer among the entire team.
In 2019 Othman received two job offers: one was a full-time job at a fast food restaurant and the other offered him 25 hours a week at the local association in Toulouse, southern France, where he was already volunteering. He chose the second one without hesitating. Saveurs d’Exil offers catering services organised by exiled people working for their common benefit. ‘I am happy to help people who are in the same situation as I was.’ Othman’s job is to give advice to migrants who come to the association looking for administrative help. He also works as a waiter and cashier at the events.
Othman is Sudanese, but like many from the East and Horn of Africa, he has spent part of his life in Saudi Arabia, a country he had to leave when he lost his residence permit. Since then he has been forced to migrate repeatedly. At first, he decided to return to his country, where he faced the strong confrontations between the Sudanese people and the dictatorial regime of Omar Al Bashir. The army’s brutal repression made him flee to Chad. Once there, he began his immigration procedures, only to receive a negative response two years later. The Chadian state denied all residence claims after the 2015 terrorist attacks. It was then when he decided to start his last odyssey, this time heading to Europe.
Like most of these migration journeys, Othman’s travels to and around Europe were not easy. ‘If I had to do it again, I would not be able to do it’, he confesses while sitting on his bed under a large French flag that he has kept since the last World Cup. After a long journey across Italy and France, he finally obtained his refugee status.
Little by little, Othman’s routine began to fill up with activities. First as a volunteer in associations, then with his job and now also as a student at Capitol University where he studies French twenty hours a week. Speaking French fluently will allow him to start a higher education career in the future. As he has written in his class notebook: ‘I am not my past, but what I chose for my future’.