Leaving Ethiopia was not an easy decision for Almaz Demise. She had a bright future as a trained pastry chef with two jobs, one in a cafe and one in a hotel, but reuniting her family took priority. She and her son left for Washington, DC in November 2017 to join her husband who immigrated to the United States three years before.
When she arrived, Demise did not know English. She had no job. “Everyday, I’m crying. I feel lose everything,” Demise now recalls with a smile. After three months, she says the crying stopped. “Now, I’m OK.”
Demise’s husband told her about a school for adults where she can learn English — Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School. She took a test, and enrolled in ESL (English as a Second Language) 2 in Spring 2018. She took another test, and moved up to ESL 4, then to ESL 5. The shy and soft-spoken Demise even joined the student government where “they taught me how to speak in front of people. I used to be scared.” Her improved English made her eligible for the school’s workforce development program.
Now, 36 years old, Demise attends Carlos Rosario’s Culinary Arts Academy, and works in the kitchen of Le Caprice DC Cafe Bakery just blocks away from the school’s northwest campus. She learned how to drive because she felt “it’s important in this country.” Demise and her husband take turns driving their eight-year-old son to and from his school.
Two years after she left her hometown of Addis Ababa, Demise has a new goal in her new home. “I want to open a cafe in the future,” shares Demise, who hopes to serve “pasta food, mostly baking and pastry.” She says Ethiopian food is “very hard” to make so she’ll stick to steak and chicken, food that she’s learning to cook in her culinary training. But that hasn’t stopped her from sharing her beloved culture.
Culinary Arts Student Cooks Her Way to Success
In her traditional dress and scarf, Demise performed a coffee ceremony for her class. She baked and shared the celebration bread Ambasha a few days after the Orthodox Christmas. And she gifted her chef instructors with Doro Wot with Injera and Ayib, her homemade cheese.
This year, Demise plans to spend the summer in Ethiopia where her mother and two brothers still live. Her father died when she was 14. Her eyes gleam at the thought of returning to her country. Besides family and friends, Demise says she misses the most her mother’s cooking — “mom food” she calls it.
“When I came here, I didn’t know English. Now, I’m better than before. I got a lot of things at Carlos Rosario School– self-confidence,” she said. “I’m gonna get promotion. I will open my own business.” For Demise, her experience at Carlos Rosario School is truly life changing.