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From Afghanistan to Sunnyside Kebab Cart

Jan. 5, 2010 By Sabine Heinlein

I spoke to Yousafi Jan Ali while a mechanic was repairing his Kebab cart under the 46th Street subway station (listen to podcast below). Loud traffic and subway noise enveloped us. The 37-year-old introduced himself as Ali with a broad, but utterly shy smile. He admitted his fear that his English might not be good enough for an audio interview.

Ali, his wife, parents and three children fled Afghanistan in 2002. After the Taliban killed his cousin, his cousin’s family and some of his friends, he didn’t feel safe anymore in his native country.

Ali prefers to live in Long Island, but likes Sunnyside. He despises the winter when he is exposed to the freezing cold and dampness.  One year ago, when Ali started working in Sunnyside, his business was good. Over the last six months, though, it has dwindled. His clients, he says, are nice, working people. Only once on a weekend did he call 911, when two drunk customers refused to pay. The thieves escaped into the subway station and the police never showed up. Undeterred, Ali waves this episode off.

“I love America,” he says. “Americans are good people. They know that we are not terrorists. We are here with family. We are coming here to save our lives.”

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I’ve never stopped at it, but gotta say it smells damn good. a nice addition to the ‘hood about a year ago.


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