Ethnic market owner finds refuge in Colorado from Libyan war
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — In a backroom of The Olive Tree Market in Fort Collins, owner Taher Misurati sits on an empty 5-gallon bucket to snack on his favorite Libyan dish.
The homemade delicacy includes a traditional lamb and rice sausage called osban paired with stewed lamb, chicken and potatoes. It is served over a heaping portion of rice and chickpeas heavily seasoned with turmeric and other North African spices.
The first bite brings Misurati back to his home country 6,500 miles away.
“Libya was once a beautiful country,” Misurati said. “But I can’t go back now. No way.”
Misurati escaped the Libyan civil war with his immediate family in 2014. He’s now one of a handful of Fort Collins ethnic grocery store owners who share native ingredients with the community.
The Olive Tree Market specializes in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Other area markets stock Asian, Indian and Mexican foods.
Each store gives area immigrants a sense of home. For Misurati, recreating Libyan food is the only way to tangibly connect with his heritage.
TROUBLES IN LIBYA
After growing up in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, Misurati’s 42-year career as a commercial airline pilot eventually landed him in Qatar.
But after the 2011 fall of longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Misurati was hopeful for his home country. He retired from his job at Qatar Airlines and moved back to Libya, where he had long kept a home for holidays and visiting family.
“I wanted to participate in building up the country,” Misurati said.
But the civil war never ceased, and Libya failed to stabilize.
While visiting family elsewhere in the country, Misurati got a call from neighbors that his Libyan home had been bombed. He returned a few weeks later to find his residence mostly burned down. Only a few kitchen supplies could be salvaged from the home.
Soon after the bombing, Misurati’s son Ali survived a separate explosion.
Ali had graduated from Poudre High School in 2012 while living in Fort Collins with his sister. He briefly moved back to Libya with his father in 2014 — just before the country hosted parliamentary elections.
When Ali and a cousin learned of a gas station that was open at 3 a.m. one night, they jumped at the chance to purchase fuel. While Libya owns Africa’s largest oil reserves, gasoline is a rare commodity for residents. The few gas stations open at the time typically had long lines that meandered around blocks.
The cousins got in a car, turned on the lights and started the engine. But before they could leave the driveway, a device fired from a nearby bridge exploded just behind the car. Ali and his cousin immediately bolted back into the house unharmed.
“I had never seen death in front of me until that day,” Ali said. “I don’t think I slept a single day that I was there.”
The Misurati family eventually obtained a U.S. asylum visa from nearby Jordan. They were off to northern Colorado, where Taher’s eldest daughter already lived. Taher had previously visited for months at a time.
Looking for new employment, Taher purchased the Mediterranean ethnic market called The Olive Tree. He had previously patronized the grocery store stocked with supplies from all over the world.
Ahmed Fallah launched The Olive Tree in 1985 under the name Oasis Market. Misurati is the sixth owner of the business. He’s also the store’s main employee, occasionally getting a shift covered by family or friends.
A Libyan national flag hangs behind the cash register. There are signs scattered throughout the store in both English and Arabic.
The Olive Tree has a weekly Friday rush of customers seeking lamb and goat meat. Whole animals are purchased at a weekly Wednesday auction and then butchered in Greeley according to Muslim dietary requirements, often referred to as “halal” or “zabiha.”
The meats are then trimmed and packaged in a backroom at The Olive Tree.
Specialized rices, spices, oils, teas, breads, coffees, sweets and canned goods are among the store’s most popular items.
International college students make up a large portion of the business. Sales typically decline by half during summer breaks.
The Olive Tree carries a row of imported frozen food products and microwavable items catered toward student customers looking for quick meals.
“People come in here because they want to eat like home,” Taher said.
The store also provides halal practitioners alternatives to food they might not otherwise be able to eat. The Olive Tree is stocked with non-alcoholic beer and non-gelatin marshmallows, among other alternatives.
Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan, http://www.coloradoan.com