SAINT PAUL, Minn. - Any busy restaurant kitchen is part culinary, part choreography. But you won't find two less likely dance partners than Fre Haile and Shegitu Kebede.
"We're not supposed to be friends. We're supposed to be enemies," says Kebede, as the women sit side-by-side in the dining room before the lunch rush.
Haile grew up in Eretria and Kebede in Ethiopia - two bordering east African nations, whose people have spent decades, engaged in often deadly conflict.
"I hated the Ethiopians, I hated them with passion," says Haile. Her feelings are understandable. Both women suffered greatly from the hatred between their nations.
As a young girl, Kebede wound up in an orphanage after her parents were killed. Two of her three brothers were later killed themselves.
"We lost brothers, we lost sisters, we lost mothers, we lost fathers," Haile explained.
As teens, both women fled their countries on foot to refugee camps in Kenya and Sudan. On the journey, Kebede was raped three times.
If there were ever two people who should not be sitting under the same roof, it is Haile and Kebede.
So how did it happen? How did two immigrants to the United States with so much reason to hate each other, end up opening a restaurant together in St. Paul.
"As Christians you have to forgive and if you don't forgive it just will eat you up," Haile says.
So, they forgave.
"We would not want to pass hate to our children, we want to make a better place for them," Kebede says.
That they chose to make that better place in America, plays no small part in their story. "When I see people taking freedom for granted here, it makes me angry," Haile says .
Ethiopian and Eretrian music wafts from the sound system. East African artwork covers the walls. But the Flamingo Restaurant doesn't need stars and stripes or John Philip Sousa to proclaim its Americanism. Take one look at the Flamingo's diverse clientele, and it's apparent, the melting pot isn't just a fixture in the kitchen.
"That's the spirit of America and that's who we are," Kebede says.
Haile and Kebede left Africa as rivals - and joined together in Minnesota as friends. One might consider it further proof that anything in America is possible. The owners of the Flamingo thought so when they hung on their wall a phony $1,000,000 bill.
"Minnesota we depend on you to make us first millionaires, African American single mom millionaires," smiles Kebede. "So you got to come and eat here."
African Cuisine, Sautéed in the American Dream.
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)