Falling in Love Again (originally published September 18, 2011)

SHE arrived in New York from her native Afghanistan 30 years ago, leaving behind a country scarred by colonialism, tribal lords and fundamentalists for whom religion became a vessel of hatred. Armed only with an unbeaten spirit, she met and married the man who would become her rock in her newly adopted homeland.  A savvy and visionary mother-in-law convinced her to match her remarkable cooking abilities with what must surely arrive in the future… an American desire to learn more about this newly arrived immigrant community through their cuisine.

Fast forward to 2011 when bolanis can be found at any Whole Foods and Costco.  The sales rep you speak to in Costco who “promises to change your life” with “just one taste” is most likely one of her sons, or one of their friends.  Business is so good that another factory is opening in Los Angeles.

When my husband asked a son “What sport did you play in high school?” he got a bemused but good-natured response.

“We didn’t have time for sports in school.”

Every weekend, this small family split up to cover all the local farmers’ markets, spreading the word and selling their wares.  When they weren’t at the farmers’ markets, they were helping with preparation.

She could certainly afford to take it a little bit easier but that’s not in her nature and that’s not how she got to where she is today.  She walks with a little difficulty caused by bad knees from years of being on her feet.  She has adopted two more sons to add to her already large family.  Her generosity to neighbors is amazing as we discovered early one morning after her 24-hour shift at the factory. She arrived in pajamas bearing mountains of food for a party she couldn’t attend out of sheer exhaustion.

HE was born in a town in southern China and separated from his family at the age of eleven when he was sent to live in a big city for reasons his young mind could not comprehend.  Misery hounded him until his high school years when a teacher finally broke through and helped him discover his life’s purpose.
Putting aside all thoughts of self-pity, he worked his way to the University of Hawaii where he eventually earned advanced degrees in social work. He knew that his life’s work must somehow be funded and so he took a chance and launched the Prince of Peace Enterprises with all the savings he had.

Today,  Prince of Peace is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area with offices in New York and Los Angeles.  Their top products include Tiger Balm, Nutella, and Prince of Peace chocolates, teas, ginseng, soap, honey and more.

But business is just a means to an end and, true to the epiphany he had in high school he uses his profits to benefit American and Chinese society. An example is an orphanage he established and funds in mainland China, the only one allowed by the Chinese government to be staffed and run by United States citizens.   It provides full time care for over a hundred mentally and physically disabled children under the age of six as well as rehabilitation services for other abandoned and disabled children.  The facility and its professional care is all state of the art.

He works on a 24 hour clock and appears to require very little sleep.  When you catch him on a walk, the smile on his face convinces you that if there is a secret to life, he has discovered it.

THEY came to the United States from India to attend college and never looked back.  Brilliant and unafraid of hard work, they looked about and wondered at the possibilities in this new land.  It was only a matter for them to chart their direction and their destination.  They knew how to take care of the rest of it.

A growing business in a field which I don’t understand (telecommunications software?) has them opening a new office in a new state and hiring new employees from all over these United States.  This is in addition to their already existing offices in the Bay Area.

An evening spent with them, husband and wife, promises to be intellectually stimulating and entertaining.  Don’t expect to be let off the hook with a simple answer to a soul-searching question, but be prepared to laugh for they brought their rich senses of humor with them when they left their native India.

A comment romanticizing multi-generational living in India will bring an admonishment from them.

“We lived like that because we couldn’t afford to live otherwise.  Nothing romantic about it.”

She, he and they all came from ancient empires, cultures already antique when George Washington was chopping down his cherry tree.  While our nation is floundering economically, she, he and they are putting hundreds of Americans to work.

And, like the rest of us, they have incorporated their own personal stories into the skills and contributions to our country as a greater whole.  But they still have the love in their eyes when they speak…the love of this country they chose for their home.

We all have the blood of the adventurer coursing through our veins. Even the Native Americans had to make the choice of crossing the Bering Strait land bridge if scientists are to be believed.  But I think that many of us have forgotten what my neighbors know so well.

In the course of a long marriage when two partners become so accustomed to the other that they find themselves taking that special relationship for granted, they can always reach for their memories to appreciate why they fell in love so many years ago.

Those of us who are not first generation immigrants don’t have that ability to remember why we fell in love with this country and what strong magnet drew us to its shores.

So talk to an immigrant and listen to her tales.  With that, I promise that you will fall in love again.