Friday, August 31, 2012
Personal account: Murdered owners of Desta Ethiopian Restaurant were “role models for success”
The owner was a symbol of hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance.
When I moved from Damazin, Sudan, back to Dallas last year with the intention of shooting a short film based on a script I had written earlier in the summer, I did what all recent returnees to a city should do — scoured Dallas for any new cheap, outdoor cafes, preferably those with shisha or other discussion-inducing perks useful in pre-production brainstorming.
So it was fitting that — well, barring the shisha — I made a stop at the new Desta Ethiopian Restaurant on Dallas’s Greenville Avenue. The restaurant’s owner, Yared, treated me to an espresso, and when I told him about the film I planned to shoot, his eyes lit up and he began listing friends of his — many in Dallas’s Ethiopian community — whom he thought could support the project.
Yared, who moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia some time ago, shared the entrepreneurial spirit of his brother, who owns a restaurant by the same name in Atlanta. I went to that restaurant while taking a class in Amharic three years ago. Each one of the Ethiopian restaurants in Atlanta has a specialty, my instructor explained — kitfo, lentils, baked goods, coffee. Desta is known for its beef tibs.
Metallic bars rose in a wave pattern to the restaurant’s high ceilings. The owner spoke excitedly of his plans for jazz piano sessions on weekends. A server walked by with a vegetable platter, the vibrant beets, lentils, and cabbage slotted around the edge of the plate like paints on a palette, grinning menacingly in the face of the restaurant’s white tablecloths.
Yared and I kept in touch over the next several weeks. I texted him one night to see if the jazz piano was on and took my mother, who teaches math at a nearby high school, to Desta after attending a football game. We had a couple cappuccinos; the cheesecake was on the house.
And along came the time for collaboration on the film project. In November 2011, Desta served as the site for the first fundraiser for Faisal Goes West.
Four gunshots and Yared and his wife lay dead at the doorstep of their east Dallas home. Some time has passed since the incident earlier in August, but it appears a customer, who felt “disrespected” by the soft-spoken Yared, followed the couple home and allegedly killed them. Their 18-month-old son was inside the house with Yared’s mother.
The Ethiopian community mourned in large numbers over the coming days.
“Community” may be an abstract, loose term, but there can be no mistaking the shared bond of leaving one country for another. And despite where one finds his or her self on the infinite spectrum of identity — be it elements of “Ethiopian,” “American,” a combination of the two, or something completely different altogether — Yared was a symbol, to many, of hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance, and was in many ways a role model for success within the community of newcomers to Dallas.
His life was allegedly taken by someone within that same community. Someone who had made that same journey from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Dallas.
In a similar vein, Faisal Goes West, a fiction, deals with the struggles of a young man and his family moving from Sudan to a new life in Dallas.
Identity. Aspirations. Betrayal. Guilt. These are all elements surrounding Faisal's story, and perhaps Yared's too.
But so is hope.
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