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Originally published November 26, 2009 at 12:09 AM | Page modified November 26, 2009 at 12:16 AM

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Jerry Large

Good people give back with thanks

Hers is the Thanksgiving of someone who traveled to a foreign land and made a fresh start despite hardships and with the help of new friends.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Zewditu Aschenaki's story is as nourishing as the turkey dinners she's serving today.

Hers is the Thanksgiving of someone who traveled to a foreign land and made a fresh start despite hardships and with the help of new friends.

Pilgrim or refugee, the American story keeps renewing itself.

As a teenager, Aschenaki joined a stream of young people pouring out of an unstable and dangerous Ethiopia in the 1980s.

She traveled to Sudan, then lived in Canada before joining her sister in Seattle in 1998 when she was 29.

Now she lives in Lynnwood, teaches cosmetology at Evergreen Beauty and Barber College in Everett, and owns Salon Adidez in Columbia City.

This is the fourth year that she has spent Thanksgiving Day at her salon giving meals to people who need a hand.

"I have so much to be thankful for," she told me. "When I first came I didn't know anyone. I didn't know the language or the culture. Now I own a house and I have a beautiful daughter."

She said it pains her to see people who were born and raised here going hungry. "If it wasn't for the community, I wouldn't get what I got."

Aschenaki (everyone calls her Zed) arrived in Vancouver, B.C., in 1989. The city wasn't as diverse as it is now. She says it was rare to see a black person, let alone another Ethiopian.

She moved to Edmonton, but says the snow chased her out. Aschenaki tried Toronto, but the city was in the midst of a recession. She looked for months but couldn't find a job.

"I nearly went crazy," she said. "I always have two jobs. I don't like doing nothing."

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When she came back to Vancouver, Aschenaki got a job at a supermarket and another at a hair salon. She was also studying accounting, but discovered she loved doing hair and switched to cosmetology.

And before moving to Seattle, she had a daughter, Ida, who's 13 now. (The salon's name is Zed Ida backward.)

It was Ida who got her mother thinking about helping poor people.

One day they were exiting Interstate 5 downtown and saw homeless people by the freeway. One was a child.

Ida suggested they bring food the next day. "I told her, 'You know it is a blessing that I have you.' " They couldn't find the child, but they started taking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to other homeless people.

Each year Aschenaki had friends and family over for Thanksgiving, and sometimes they'd ask why she wasn't serving Ethiopian food, or they'd complain about the taste of Thanksgiving dishes. So, in 2005 she started cooking for people who would really appreciate a meal.

"We have so much to complain about, while there are people who have nothing," she said.

Aschenaki could complain herself. Divorce left her a single mom, the economy is hurting her business, and last November she had a heart attack. She still served her meal though, with the help of friends.

She's never done the Thanksgiving meals alone. They've become a community effort.

Businesses in Columbia City chip in. Bob's Meats donates turkeys, the people at the businesses next to hers, Columbia City Parcel & Post and Books4Cars.com are deeply involved.

Customers bring desserts, and neighbors from Lynnwood help her as well.

"When you have good people around you, everything is easier," she said.

True. And turmoil in other parts of the world keeps sending more good people here to enrich our table.

That's another thing to be thankful for today.

The takeout meals will be given out between noon and 7 p.m. today at Salon Adidez, 3705 S. Edmunds St., 206-725-3841.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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