Food, running and culture: one refugee’s story

As told to Hillary Leung and Tegan Smyth. Words by Tegan Smyth.

 Joseph* is a refugee from a country in Africa that is currently embroiled in sectarian violence. He spoke to us about his daily life as a refugee as well as sharing a treasured recipe from home.


Could you tell us a little about the food you cooked today?

Today I cooked beef with tomato sauce, onion, garlic and semolina – with some rice on the side. For dessert, we have fresh mango. I think it is a nice dish for people to eat.


What do you call the semolina meal in your culture? I know in some places it is called ugali or fufu.

In my country, we call it “kosa”. In Lingala [language spoken in DRC, Congo, Angola and the Central African Republic], they call it “fufu”, but in my language, we call it kosa.


Do you eat this often, back in your country?

People eat it very often. It is a basic staple food. Nearly every dish is eaten with semolina, actually.

Photo: Rex Yuen. Joseph, preparing the stew.

Is this a kind of famous dish in your country?

The famous dish in my country is called “koko”. In Hong Kong, we cannot find it. Koko is a kind of vegetable that is commonly available in Africa – but I have never seen it in Hong Kong.


Do you cook this stew often, since you’ve been in Hong Kong?

Yes, whenever I can, I cook it. With this sauce, we can make many different dishes, the sauce is good for fish too.


Is there a big African community – from your country of origin – in Hong Kong, that you feel a part of or are there not many people from your country here?

There is not too much, but we are around 9 or 10 from this country, here in Hong Kong. Because even in my country, we are not too many, only about 3 or 4 million and many just live in one of the big cities.


What would you like people to know about yourself and your country’s food?

You know, food is something good. When you don’t have food, you are nervous, you can die. Food is a basic thing that all people need – if you have good food, you have a good self. I think so. And if you don’t have your food when you like, you need to do something similar from your country.


How do you find Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is security, a secure city.


What is your everyday life like in Hong Kong? What do you do in a day?

Every day, especially if I don’t feel good, I run. You know, running is something people can do when they don’t feel good. You run and are able to de-stress. I like to run in the morning. And if I have nothing on, I go to the park and do training. Sometimes I come here [to the Refugee Union office], and I help out with the computers for the people here.


Did you work in IT or with computers before?

Yes. This is my background. This was my career before. But of course, I cannot work in Hong Kong as I am a refugee, so I help out with computers to pass the time.


If the government allowed you to work in Hong Kong, would you want to do this kind of job?

Yes. I could help many people.



[Editor’s note]: International charity Free to Run set up the running group a year ago, in collaboration with local NGO Justice Centre. Free to Run aims to use the power of sport to change lives and communities in areas of greatest need and co-ordinates running activities for refugees in Hong Kong. To find out more, this is their Facebook page: 

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