Tuesday, March 1, 2016

From Baghdad To The Bay

The extraordinary journey of Mr. Ghazwan Alsharif, the Chef at RAMS Broderick Street Adult Residential Facility, is the subject of the upcoming documentary From Baghdad to The Bay. For the past eight years, Erin Palmquist, independent filmmaker and director of the documentary, has been capturing on film the compelling story of Ghazwan’s life.

When Ghazwan was growing up, he dreamed of being a painter and artist. Born in Baghdad, he shared that is from a wealthy and well-known family of diplomats. Becoming an artist was not a path his family approved of. He learned to enjoy cooking at home from his parents, but cooking was not seen as a career path. In line with his family’s wishes, he pursued a degree in Office Management.

In 2003, while still in Iraq, Ghazwan became a translator for the U.S. Military. However, the Iraqis did not trust translators for the U.S. Army, and after a month in the position, Ghazwan’s family told him to quit. But, as he explained, he did not quit and subsequently his family disowned him. During that time, he camped out at the U.S. Army base. That December, the U.S. Army became suspicious of him and threw him in jail, where he was then reportedly tortured for 75 days. “I have patience. I’ve learned to be patient,” Ghazwan shared.

In 2005, Ghazwan went into exile and moved to Jordan; it wasn’t until 2008 that he was granted refugee status and sent to Oakland, California through the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC introduced Erin Palmquist, Jennifer Huang, and Karena O’Rirodan to Ghazwan, who was excited to share his story with the filmmakers.

Photo from www.frombaghdadtothebay.com

From Baghdad to the Bay captures the drama in Ghazwan’s life. Upon moving to the United States, he thought he was in a safe country, but one night, random people jumped him and knocked him down. His roommates called an ambulance and Ghazwan was then in the ER overnight. Afterward, his mental health declined and he went through a period of depression. “I had depression. I’ve been mugged,” Ghazwan shared.

“When you are in depression, you want to talk to someone and let it out,” Ghazwan shared. As a very social person, he started building a family in the Bay Area. “I have a son [in another country], and had to leave him, but I cannot see him. When I came here, I started building a family. I’m very social; I’m very friendly, so I have tons and tons of friends. I’m very loving to them, and they are very loving to me.” One of his friends took him to a therapist to talk and alleviate the depression. “Depression can cause a lot of harm, some people even kill themselves. For me, I knew I could get over it. I have patience,” he shared.

 “The documentary basically talks about how I grew up and survived in the jungle; about how you can get over things, with the tough life that you have. I started here from zero and now I have a successful story,” Ghazwan explained.

The documentary also talks about Ghazwan coming out. He didn’t come out when he first arrived to the United States. “One day I looked online and I saw people getting killed because of their sexuality, so I thought it was time for someone to do something and step up and step out, so I said I am a gay man.” He began supporting the Middle Eastern LGBT community in the Bay Area by starting the group Asheq, which means “love” in Arabic. “I support them and do a lot of activities with them,” he shared. Every two months, they have a dance party with fun music and it helps them build the much needed sense of community and belonging.

Photo from www.frombaghdadtothebay.com

Ghazwan has been working for RAMS as the Chef at the Broderick Street Adult Residential Facility for just over a year now, and he loves it. Cooking is his passion. “It’s the easiest job I’ve ever done. I tell them all the time that I love it. I like the clients; the coworkers are amazing, and the staff.” He is also a party promoter and runs his own catering business called Plates.

What makes Ghazwan happiest in the Bay Area is that he gets to be himself. He said, “I’m being myself. I’m not lying to myself. I’m in San Francisco, and that’s really a nice place to stay. I’m working at RAMS and I’m happy here. I love cooking. It’s something to make me happy. They call me, even if I have a phone call at 5 a.m. or 4 a.m., I come here to see the clients/residents. Cooking makes me happy. When I wake up, I’m blessed, because I get to work on something that I love and I’m getting paid for it,” he said.

From Baghdad to The Bay has just launched its fundraising campaign on February 25th, in order to raise money for post-production. The trailer has been released, along with the link for the donation page. The campaign has match funding by Beacon, who is matching the first $10,000.

“We have been doing this for 8 years. It’s very stressing. When I see myself I’m like, ‘Wow!’ The trailer shows some dramatic things that have happened to me, but I’m survivor. I’m happy and healthy.”

When asked about his future, Ghazwan said, “My goal is to have my own restaurant, and to see my son, who is in the United Kingdom, with my ex-wife.” Ghazwan has been on competitive cooking shows three times, including Guy’s Grocery Games on the Food Network and a show called Food Chain. “I’m still trying to [get on the] show Chopped. If I win the money, I’m going to see my son.”

For more information about the film and to donate, please visit:
https://twitter.com/baghdadtothebay   #TellGhazwansStory

From Baghdad to The Bay Teaser from Erin Palmquist on Vimeo.

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