Growing up in Pakistan, Saima never went to school. Her family did not have internet access, so she spent her days cooking alongside her mom, preparing dishes ranging from the Afghan classic bolani to the Pakistani biryani.
Over time, she began to try different recipes that were less familiar to her and her culture—ice cream, fish sticks and lasagna. Cooking passed the time as they waited to be relocated to the U.S. after having fled terrorism in their home country of Afghanistan.
Yet when she came to the United States in 2016 with her mother, brother and sister, Saima saw a window of opportunity that had not previously been there when she discovered YouTube for the first time.
“She watches a lot of YouTube videos, and she saw that everybody posts their cooking videos, and she said ‘Why shouldn’t I?’” said her sister, who interpreted for Saima. “She loves cooking, so she posts her videos, and, hopefully, if her videos get monetized, she could earn from YouTube too.”
In their home country, Saima and her sister would never have dreamed of this possibility.
“When we moved here, I can’t imagine—back in my country I couldn’t work because it’s very hard for girls to work over there,” her sister said. “But here, I went to college; I work over here; Saima works over here. It’s much better, and of course there’s no terrorism.”
With these new doors opening, both sisters saw new futures for themselves—one in the medical field, and Saima in communications. While her sister worked and went to school, Saima worked as well, but she also taught herself everything she needed to know for her cooking channel with the help of her brother, who first introduced her to video editing.
“Now, she does it herself. She just goes into the system and finds new things,” her sister said. “There are a lot of things I don’t know how to do, but she does. She’s creative, very, very creative. I don’t know much about computers, but she does, even though she’s never been to school.”
If you look on Saima’s Kitchen World today, you’ll find dozens of videos that reflect her and her family’s story: their flight from Afghanistan, the wait in Pakistan and finally their arrival in Memphis. Despite having only tried pizza in the U.S., Saima is sure to pay homage to her adopted home with recipes such as club sandwiches.
One day, she hopes to take her cooking to the next level with paid sponsorships and eventually a cookbook after learning English and studying communications. With the help of her family, this new dream seems closer than ever.
“We get things ready for her, and she cooks it on the weekends. The other days, when she comes back from work at night time, she’ll do editing and stuff. The next week she’ll upload the video on the same weekend that she makes a new recipe,” her sister explained for Saima. “It’s very hard and time consuming. It is nonstop.”
It may be time-consuming, but it’s a labor of love that Saima is happy to continue. While waiting for her debut as a cookbook author, you can find her mastering recipes for family and friends, both American and immigrant alike.
If you want to travel around the world through cooking like Saima has done, join us this month for #Passport901 in celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month! Each week we’ll post a new recipe to try, starting with Saima’s, and by cooking it you could be entered for a chance to win a prize in partnership with Choose901. Simply post the end result to your social media account, tagging us in it and using #Passport901. The winner will be announced at the end of the month.
If you don’t have time to whip up a recipe amidst the summer holidays, fill out a volunteer application to see how else you can get involved.