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January 2nd, 2002 WWeek Staff | News Stories
 

Voices

Four immigrants who are changing the face of Portland.

     
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Each year at this time, we take a pause from our weekly dose of opinionated news gathering and let other people take over the paper's prime real estate.

The annual Voices issue is an effort to introduce readers to some of the more interesting residents of the metro area through extended interviews. Some years we simply pick four folks we think are particularly intriguing. Other years we try to find a thread that connects the four subjects in some way.

We felt that this winter, more than ever, it was important to think broadly, to remember that if there is any positive fallout from the still-smoldering ruins in New York, it's that our nation's bubble of isolation has been popped. So we sought out people whose lives began, not just outside this city, but outside this country. Their paths to Portland were quite different, but all serve to remind us that, even tucked away in this quiet corner of the United States,
we hear echoes from across
the globe.


 


Leonid Nosov, who came to Portland in 1994, has already set down roots. "My father was Russian, my mother Ukrainian. So I'm American," says the accordionist.

Accordionist Leonid Nosov
A talented refugee from the Ukraine is helping other immigrants reconnect with their musical past.

BY ZACH DUNDAS
www.pcs.org for information.Leonid Nosov, who came to Portland in 1994, has already set down roots. "My father was Russian, my mother Ukrainian. So I'm American," says the accordionist.


 


Kline says her family's concerns over her "lower status" profession evaporated after they visited Portland.

Typhoon!'s Bo Kline

BY CARYN B. BROOKS AND JOHN SCHRAG

One of the ways many Portlanders learn about other cultures is by stuffing their faces. The owners of ethnic eateries take on the job of ambassador, whether they intend to or not. Good thing, then, that Bo Lohasawat Kline, the chef/co-owner of the inventive high-end Thai restaurant Typhoon!, got a master's degree in intercultural communications at Eastern Washington University.

She returned to her native Thailand after studying for her doctorate at Gonzaga University and trained the multicultural staffs of five-star hotels. She met her American husband, former film producer Steve Kline, when he stayed at one of the properties she worked at while making a made-for-televison movie. The couple moved to Portland from Los Angeles with their three children in 1995 and opened up their first Typhoon! in a strip mall off Northwest 23rd Avenue. Portlanders gobbled up Bo's fresh take on Thai cuisine, and a second Typhoon! opened downtown on Southwest Broadway. In the past few years, the Klines have expanded into Washington with two new restaurants: one in Seattle and the other in Redmond. Bo heads the kitchens of all four restaurants, staffing them with Thai cooks she hand-selects, during annual trips to Thailand, from the same five-star hotels she used to work at.

Willamette Week: Were you always interested in food?

Bo Lohasawat Kline: Always. My father was the one who was really into food. Whenever he had a chance, he loved to cook.

How would you describe some of the differences between the restaurant scenes in Bangkok and Portland?

Eating out is very common for Thai people. We enjoy food. Food is the biggest part of our lives. For example, even some greetings refer to food, like 'Have you eaten, yet? Are you hungry?' That's just a greeting in Thailand.

So is there the same appreciation of food in Bangkok as we now see in the U.S.? Are there celebrity restaurant owners and chefs?

I hate to say this, but if I were to go back to Thailand now and tell people that I am a cook and own restaurants, they would probably see me at a lower status. For chefs in America, we honor them like movie stars. It's a totally different world.

As someone raised to believe that cooks have a lower status, was it hard for you to make that jump and say, 'I feel good about being a cook'?

It really doesn't matter what other people think. I'm happy with who I am. Lots of people have trouble going to work, because they don't like their work. But I enjoy what I'm doing. I love my staff. I'm here every day because I enjoy them. I have my passion for my food. It really doesn't matter. I'm very proud of what I'm doing.

Some of your food is very traditional. Other dishes are non-traditional. Are there Thai people who come to the restaurant and make comments about that?

Yes, they will say, 'This is not Thai food.' But think about this. Food in Thailand does not stay the same, either. If I were in Thailand now with these new dishes, I would be more accepted than I am here.

When you started, you were using local chefs?

Local Thai cooks.

So they were familiar with Thai cooking, but not...

Not the way I want. My philosophy of cooking is I want simple things, simple tastes, simple food--a balance of flavors. When you look at a dish, you know what's in it. You know what the main ingredients are. You may not know the spice, but when you taste it, you can taste everything that is in there.

How do you educate the American servers about the Thai culture?

I think they educate themselves. Every day they put together a lunch and dinner, so they teach each other.

Do you find that the Western and Thai staffers develop friendships that last once the workday ends?

In Portland, they get along very well. In Seattle, they're learning. In Portland, the staff has been with us for a long time. We are like a big family. Two houses. And once in a while I gather them and just throw a party.

How did your Thai employees react to the Sept. 11 attacks?

Thai people are very different. We are happy people. As long as they are happy here, nothing will disturb them much. But of course, they were upset by what happened with the World Trade Center. They didn't understand that at all. They're not American citizens, yet they think this is their home. So whatever happens here, it affects them in the same way, too.

If you weren't in the restaurant business, what do you think you'd be doing right now?

I love service industries, so I'd probably work for hotels.

If you and your husband hadn't met, do you think you would be living in America?

When I was born, my father went to a fortune teller who was supposed to very good at what he did. He said that I was supposed to be in America. But my father didn't want to influence my life. When I was supposed to come here to study, he just kept quiet about all this. When he passed away, my mother told me that when I was born it said in my stars that I was supposed to be living here. America is where I love to be. It's such a beautiful country, though it has a long way to go with a lot of things.

Where do you see that it needs to go?

We could be more appreciative of what the past has brought us. For example, we should appreciate older people--who they were and what they've done in their lives. Asian culture definitely honors older people more than American culture does.

Do you miss Thailand?

I try to tell my staff and my children that they should appreciate what they have here. A lot of people struggle through traffic for two hours just to get to work in Bangkok. You have to leave at 5:30 to take your children to school at 7:30. And the kids have to eat breakfast in the car. So life is very good here.

What have you found is the biggest misconception that people here have about Thailand?

I think Americans are much more sophisticated now compared to five or six years ago, when we got here and started the restaurant. Before, we had to explain to them that we are totally different from the Chinese. It's been a long process of education. But now, Americans are much more sophisticated. Not many people ask for chopsticks anymore.

How did you pick Portland?

Steve promised me it was never going to snow. And he never told me about rain. We did a reception for Neil Goldschmidt at our house in Los Angeles, and he did a good job pitching my partner. We love it here.

Coming from cosmopolitan Bangkok, have you found more acceptance of cross-cultural relationships there than here?

It used to be a no-no in Thailand. But now, it is very acceptable. If you go to Thailand now, there are a lot of half-bloods--Thai and something else.

It seems to me that yours were the first restaurants in Portland to have Thai food that was more than fast food. Would you say that is true?

If I say that, will I get hit? I think the others muddle through more than anything else. It's hard to keep the consistency of taste--and if you open more than one restaurant, it is very hard. For me, I approach it with a teacher-student style. I approach it with theories. I can say, 'Put two tablespoons here. Put one teaspoon there.' And you mix it up, but you must taste it. It really doesn't matter whether you follow my recipe or not. Sometimes things change. Sometimes lime juice doesn't taste the same in winter as it does in summer.

Do you have any chefs you look up to in America? People whose cookbooks you buy, even if it's not Thai cooking?

I love Nobuyuki Matsuhisa. He's great, and he's not afraid to go and do a little Southeast Asian. He's a brave man. I'm a cookbook freak. I collect hundreds and hundreds of cookbooks. I read them like novels.

Do you do any Internet searching of recipes?

Steve went through Thai recipes the other day, and nothing interested me.

What do you think of this idea that people can come to your restaurant, and then immediately go onto a website and say either that they had a great time or it was
horrible?

I think the Citysearch thing is very distracting, because how do you know who these people are? It could be the employee that we fired last month. It could be someone who didn't like us. We caught someone who sent the same specific message to two different restaurants. I think some comments are so mean. I don't think it's fair.

You recently were a guest chef at the Beard House in New York City. What was it like feeding the
cosmopolitan foodies?

They thought we were from San Diego! I said, 'No, no. We're from Portland.' 'Where?' They could not believe that we were from Portland. How come they didn't have us? How come Portland had us?

How would you compare owning a business in Seattle to owning one in Portland?

Seattle is a different crowd. When you go to Seattle at night, you still see lots of people walking around, but Portland is a family kind of town. If you go through downtown at 8:30, it's already barren. You don't see many people there, while in Seattle at 8:30, people just start rolling through the door. They start drinking and having dinner. But for us, 5:30 sharp, they all come. By 7:00, they need to go home to get to bed at 7:30. This is a healthy kind of life.

How is the recession affecting business?

I own four restaurants. The one that is not doing as well is the one in Seattle. We have to forgive them a little bit, because they have the strikes, and Boeing is moving out.

What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now? Do you hope to still be in Portland?

This is our home, yes.

In this business, or doing something completely different?

This is the thing that I have the passion for. If I don't do this, then I will probably be doing nothing. This is what we do, and we have to do it. There are lots of ups and downs, but we always remember the ups.




As the first NBA player from Cameroon, Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje has sparked a new interest in the game back home. "From what I hear from my family, a lot of people are getting wind of it and are very proud of me being the first Cameroonian," he says. "Hopefully, it's going to open more doors for kids to get into basketball."

Blazer Rookie Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje
BY BRIAN LIBBY

Any hoop junkie will tell you there's no prouder basketball tradition than playing center at Georgetown University. From Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo to Alonzo Mourning and Othella Harrington, the school has sent an incredible succession of post players to the NBA. But while Georgetown ranks among the nation's most prestigious learning institutions, its basketball players have not always been known as rocket scientists or Peace Corps candidates.

He may now be a Hall of Fame inductee, but Ewing left Georgetown virtually illiterate after four years, and former Hoyas guard Allen Iverson arrived at the campus with the law on his tail.

Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje, on the other hand, is a reminder that some NBA players actually learned a few things in college. Talk to Trail Blazer coaches about him for even a few seconds and their eyes light up. Selected in the second round of last summer's NBA draft, the 6-foot-11-inch Georgetown grad immediately surprised the team with his exceptional talent and unmatched work ethic.

"He gets better every day," says head coach Maurice Cheeks. "He has unbelievable timing, he knows how to run the floor, and he can guard people up and down the court. He never stops working hard."

And while he may never match the on-court achievements of his famous Georgetown predecessors, Boumtje-Boumtje could probably whip them all in a round of Celebrity Jeopardy. The first NBA player from Cameroon, Boumtje-Boumtje speaks fluent English and French, as well as his tribe's native language, Bassa. He graduated Georgetown with a double major in pre-med and mathematics, and he's considered becoming a doctor after his playing days are over. He's living proof that there are smart, hard-working guys running up and down the NBA's hallowed hardwood--and that Portland fans are eager to cheer them.

Willamette Week: You came to basketball later in life. Do people play basketball very much in Cameroon?

Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje: When I was in Cameroon, there weren't that many [basketball players]. We all knew each other and went to the same gym. But in the past four or five years, people have become much more interested in basketball, because they have more satellite dishes.

Do you think you'll go back to live there someday?

Yes, eventually. My whole family is there, my tradition, my roots, everything. But I'm going to see how things go here for a while and make my decision after that.

You seem to have a very good command of English. How many speak it in Cameroon?

Cameroon is a bilingual country: French and English. It's true that most of the population is French-speaking, but high schools are trying to get French-speaking people to take English and vice versa. I really picked up English when I came here in 1996 for my senior year of high school. I came here in July, and the first day of school was in August, so I did a lot of work to better my English.

Have you ever trash-talked anybody in French or Bassa?

Yes, all the time [laughing]. I have a lot of friends from Cameroon in the United States. So we do what every kid does: We trash-talk. There's not very many from my tribe, so I don't get to speak any Bassa here. But when I call home, my people just talk Bassa to me most of the time. They're trying to get me to keep it up.

What are some of the misconceptions people here have about Cameroon?

I think the biggest misconception is not just about Cameroon, but Africa overall. A lot of people tend to think of it as one country instead of a continent with lots of different countries, cultures, traditions and lifestyles. So I hear things like, 'Do you guys see lions when you get up in the morning?' People have those preconceptions from movies or books or whatever. I've met a lot of great, well-educated people, especially at Georgetown, who pretty much had a good idea of what Cameroon would be like. But I get some dumb questions: 'Do you have barber shops? Do you have movie theaters, TVs?'

Walking past the players' parking lot in the Rose Garden, I saw about five Mercedes and two or three Cadillac SUVs. Have you got yourself a fancy car or other new toys with your newfound riches?

I can afford all the cars those other guys have, but I'm not too much into that. All of them deserve what they have from the standpoint of being veterans and proving themselves in this league. I'm just a young guy, and I try to stay within limits. My guardians are here, my American parents, and--trust me--they would not let me spend money like that.

So what do you drive?

I just bought a Chevy Tahoe a few weeks ago, and that's going to be my car for a while.

What's your life like off the court? Have you been able to have much of a social or love life?

Not yet, because I haven't made a conscious effort to really go out. Until recently, I was living in a hotel in Tualatin. There wasn't much to do. Now I've just moved into an apartment in downtown Portland. So I haven't gone very deep into Portland social life, but I'm sure that will happen. When I do go to a restaurant or something, people stop and ask for autographs, which is cool. I have no problem with that.

How do you like to relax? Are you into video games, as so many NBA players seem to be?

I'm not into video games, but I do watch a lot of TV. I like to be aware of what's going on around me. I also go to the movies. I love comedy, and Friday is a favorite. I also love action movies, and in general I like stuff that makes you think, or twists you around a little bit.

Have the interests of your teammates rubbed off on you very much?

Yes. I've gotten into hip-hop, which we didn't listen to very much back home. Now they do so more than before I left. I'm pretty much open when it comes to music. I listen to country, R&B, hip-hop, jazz. My godfather here plays a lot of jazz.

What was it like going from Washington, D.C., a city with a very large black population, to Portland, where it's so small?

I did notice when I came here that there weren't very many African Americans, and I was told about that, too. But I don't have a problem with that. When I was in D.C., I lived in Georgetown for four years, and there were all sorts of nationalities there. I got to meet lots of people. I had friends from almost every country in Europe, Africa and America.

Have you experienced any bad treatment in Portland that you felt was racially motivated?

No, I haven't. And I can honestly say that I haven't since I've arrived in this country. Maybe that's because both here and when I was at Georgetown, people knew me. I never really experienced what African Americans might have. But here in Portland, I see it happen.

Having graduated with a pre-med and math degree, you seem to have more of a commitment to education than many basketball players. Where does that inspiration come from?

I wouldn't have ever been in this country if I didn't have that inspiration, because my father would never have let me come here. That was the requirement. When he finally agreed to let me come over here in my senior year of high school, it was because he knew I was committed to school. I was his first child to leave home and go to another country. With everything you hear about this country, he was scared that if I came here I'd maybe get involved with drugs and stuff like that. I was very young, and I was going to be here only with my godfamily. When I would call him from Georgetown, he would never ask about basketball. He would say, 'How is school?' But I also studied because I like it. I love to know what's going on around me. It was a lot of work, but I was extremely proud when I graduated.

With the strong basketball tradition at Georgetown, were there ever people who said you should be spending less time on academics and more on playing?

I heard that from coaches from time to time, but it didn't bother me because I knew I would give my best on the court every day. I worked just as hard in practice as everybody else, and they acknowledged that. Overall, they were very supportive. They knew I was committed to both. Whenever I needed to stay [and work] extra after practice, I stayed extra. It's just that when I would go back to the dorm, I wouldn't do the fun things that maybe my teammates would do. I would study.

You were quoted in an ESPN story a few weeks ago saying Magic Johnson hasn't done enough to keep promoting HIV awareness. How important is the AIDS crisis in Africa to you?

I think it's a very important issue. More and more people are being infected by that disease in Africa every day. My parents tell me it's getting worse and worse. I think Americans aren't willing to do as much for [Africa] as they'd do for themselves. But I do think the American government is doing what it can. A lot of times it's hard to convince people to be more protective in order to minimize the risks.

Dikembe Mutombo has funded a lot of humanitarian programs in his home country, Congo. Have you thought about doing something similar?

Definitely. I think it's a duty for me to help people who are less fortunate. That's what we all need to do in our society, help those people who need it to get better.

What would you like to do after your playing days are over?

I always have had some interest in medicine. I'm very fascinated by the area of orthopedics. We'll see how it goes with the NBA thing. I might end up going to med school someday, or something else. I really can't speculate. I think the best thing that could happen after my NBA career is something in medicine.
But it's quite a commitment: six to 10 years of study. So we will see.

 



Abdul Saboor Raheel arrived in Portland on Sept. 27, just one day after flying into New York. His flight to the U.S. originally was scheduled for Sept. 13.

Afghan Exile Abdul Saboor Raheel

CHRIS LYDGATE
clydgate@wweek.com

Political refugee Abdul Saboor Raheel and his family arrived in Portland in September--less than three weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11. An ethnic Tajik, he was born in Qala-e-malik, a village in the Bagram district north of Kabul, and grew up speaking Dari, a dialect of Persian. Raheel studied agriculture at university and began his career as a teacher at a Catholic school. But the bloody Communist insurrection of 1978 and subsequent Soviet invasion turned his life upside down. After stints as teacher, agricultural engineer and mujahid (member of the U.S.-backed underground resistance that eventually toppled the Communist regime), he became an editor of Kabul Times, Afghanistan's only English-language newspaper, from 1994 until September 1996, when the Taliban captured Kabul. Raheel fled north, started a pirate radio station, and eventually crossed the border into Pakistan and applied for political asylum to the United States.

Raheel and his family--wife, mother-in-law, stepmother, four sons and three daughters--now live in an apartment in Aloha. He currently works for the International Refugee Center of Oregon finding jobs for other refugees.

Willamette Week: How did you go from being an agriculture student to an editor of Kabul Times?

Abdul Saboor Raheel: It was fate. Not my choice! I was always interested in the press, but I didn't have time when I was in university. It was inherited from my father.

What did your father do?

My father was a teacher and, later, a writer of textbooks. He wrote textbooks on Dari for primary schools. He was arrested by the Communist institution. I was the only male caretaker in my family.

And what did the Communists arrest him for?

There was Stalin's kind of screening. Forty thousand to 50,000 people were arrested, according to records of the Communists. And 12,000 of these people were killed. My father was one of them.

He was killed?

He was killed. By the Communist regime.

Why was he singled out? Why was he chosen by them?

My father was a politician. He had radical thoughts because he was from Shamali [a valley north of Kabul]. He was against the state leader, and also he hated Prime Minister Hafizulla Amin, I don't know why.

How old were you when you decided to join the resistance?

That was in 1987.

So you were 32. Were you familiar with weapons? Did you know how to be a soldier?

National service was compulsory for two years. I spent the two years in a military base in Kabul, guarding airplanes.

Tell me about a typical day fighting with the Mujahedeen.

Well, I was never in any direct fighting. I was more or less an intellectual. In the beginning, I was with them on the battleground. But I objected to their ties with Pakistan. So I left them after a few months because it was difficult for me, having been in the university.

Can you give me an example of one thing you disagreed with them about?

Yeah. When they started the resistance, they were against schools. They ordered strikes on schools, military strikes. They burned and destroyed schools, bridges and factories. They wanted to destroy everything, to deprive the Soviet Union of support. I hated that. So I started criticism. When the massacres came against intellectuals and educated people, it was enough for me. I left Kabul and joined the Jamiat, a loose party of groups opposed to the Soviet occupation. After a few months, the local commander asked me to go to Pakistan, bringing relief aid and also reconstruction projects. There I met Indians, Arabs and Westerners and learned to speak English. It was in Pakistan I learned that it was just pretext. They wanted to get rid of me, because they were not able to digest what I was saying.

You were opposed to their tactics?

Yeah, their tactics. From the beginning it was clear to me it was not a religious war. This is the biggest mistake of United States and Pakistan. To make war against Soviet Union, they called it jihad. They made it religious. Why? It was not religious. People living in the Soviet Union had the right and the freedom to perform religious rituals, no problem. The Soviets were not opposed to religion.

So what happened to you? You spent some time in Pakistan?

I worked for four years in Pakistan, and at the same time working with the Culture Committee of Jamiat. I was just writing some articles against Soviet Union. And one of my friends was killed in Pakistan; he was hanged at the school.

You must have wondered whether you should stay.

Living in Pakistan, I thought it would be safer for me than returning to Kabul.

So I'm very curious how you got from being a mujahid to being a newspaper editor.

During all this time, from 1978 on, I had only six months of teaching in school. But for 10 years I spent my free time reading, reading, reading, reading and being very interested in issues. And also I was a writer. When I was a student in high school, I would write articles and send them to the Parwan newspaper. When I came to college, I used to write and translate articles and send them to the press. It was my side profession.

After four years in Pakistan, I returned to Kabul. Then a friend of mine became the head of the state-run news agency. It's called BIA--Bakhtar Information Agency. He was a very good writer, an excellent journalist. And he invited me to come and write with him at the international news desk. It was very good. This was my first official job in Afghanistan as a pressman, a journalist.

You got a good start.

After two years, I was working as chief of international news desk. Two years of working there was enough to appoint me, to find that I am appropriate for Kabul Times, rather than doing news desk and information. So I was appointed there and I went to help at the publishing house, and also as editor at Kabul Times.

Tell me about Kabul Times.

When I started at Kabul Times, it was 1994. Kabul had been through two years of factional fighting in the city that burned and drained everything. The office of Kabul Times had also the biggest printing press in the country. The printing press was burned, totally, all of its machinery, all of it. And lots of books, everything was destroyed. There were no windows in the building, most of the floors were broken and in bad shape. Kabul is a cold city--but we had a wood-burning stove, and we gathered around that in winter. I brought my own typewriter--we had two typewriters altogether. And I brought lots of books, my personal books, and dictionaries to be used in Kabul Times. After two years, I was able to change the format of Kabul Times to a computerized format. We used an Apple Macintosh.

How many reporters did you have working for the paper?

Something interesting: In Kabul Times during my tenure, there were eight reporters, all women.

I think it would be difficult for a woman to operate in Islamic society under the Mujahedeen.

Yeah, but it wasn't so bad in Kabul. Women had all the rights, but it was only war that was strict, that restricted some women. Otherwise, they were coming to the office only with a very thin scarf. The scarf they were wearing was very beautiful. It was very lightweight.

Looking back, what would you say was your biggest scoop?

In that small city, a controversial person became prime minister, [Gollbuddin] Hekmatyar. His first decree was 'Do not say anything against Pakistan.' This was while the Taliban--created by Pakistan--were bombing the tombs of Kabul. And the same day Hekmatyar arrived in Kabul, 43 people were killed by Taliban rockets--43 innocent people, civilians. But Hekmatyar decreed, 'Don't say anything against Pakistan.' A friend who had written a very bitter article against Pakistan came to me and asked if I would run it. I read it, and I published it.

What happened?

Hekmatyar himself called me to say, 'You can't publish anything against Pakistan.' He said, 'Please do not do this again.' I said OK. And so we had to apologize to him.

Nothing happened to you as a result?

No, no, no--the country was at war. They had no time to think about these things.

This was before the Taliban captured Kabul?

Yes, yes, the Taliban came in 1996. I had to leave Kabul because I wrote lots and lots of articles against them in Kabul Times. I left Kabul and went to the north. We started a radio station, Radio Afghanistan.

It was a pirate station?

Yeah, it was. We had a military communication radio. The coverage, though, was only 30 miles. We moved around to keep ahead of the Taliban. In 1998 I was chased out of Afghanistan and came to Pakistan. But I believed that Pakistan was the enemy of my country and my people, so I applied for political asylum to the United States, and they accepted me.

What is the strangest thing about living in the U.S. so far?

The houses are made of wood! We used to get satellite TV in Kabul, so I had some idea about life in the U.S. But every time I walk down the street, I always wonder, 'Where are all the people?' In Afghanistan, the streets are full of people. In the U.S., everyone has a car.

Do you think the new government in Afghanistan will be able to survive?

I'm very optimistic about the government if two conditions are met. First, the United States must keep goodwill toward the people of Afghanistan. Second, foreign influences on Afghanistan's affairs must be kept in check--especially from Pakistan. If these conditions are met, I think the situation will be good.

 
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