Roma Lama, 52, usually cooks alone, but she definitely isn’t cooking for one.

She cooks a big meal on weekends to feed herself and her daughter but also to offer something to the friends who come visit her at her home in Windham.

Lama is originally from Ethiopia. She left her parents and siblings and moved to Maine in 1999, at age 30.

She often gets homesick, she said, but cooking and eating Ethiopian food helps her feel connected.

Lama works at an independent and assisted living facility for older adults in Portland, sometimes six days a week. If she is not working Saturdays, she spends the day cooking.


She makes a large batch of injera, the fermented flatbread that is a staple of Ethiopian cuisine – enough to serve her and her daughter, and whoever might come by, for the week. She also makes other Ethiopian dishes – a stew of ground dried chickpeas called shiro, and a spicy chicken dish called doro wat, which is her favorite.

On a Saturday in November, Lama was buzzing around her kitchen, cooking and putting the various dishes into serving bowls. She organized all the food on her large dining room table.

Two of her American friends, Dan McIntyre and his son Joe, had come over. They sat in the living room and talked with Lama and her 15-year-old daughter, Arsema.

McIntyre and Lama met about 11 years ago, when he was helping her roommate with ESL classes.

Since then, McIntyre has developed a deep love of Ethiopian culture and cuisine. He has even visited Lama’s mother and sister in Ethiopia. When it comes to Lama’s cooking, he said, “Everyone agrees, she is the best around.”

When Joe had to leave after eating lunch, Roma wouldn’t let him go without taking a Tupperware container loaded with food for his wife. An hour or so later, a few more of her friends, from Ethiopia, dropped by with their children. They were in the living room chatting only for a short time before Roma told them, “Eat, eat!” They filled their plates and sat back down to continue their conversation. Soon Roma was offering them seconds.


Her drive to feed others is more than a personal philosophy. It is deeply rooted in the country of her birth.

“In our culture, we always open the door,” she explained. “When somebody comes, they eat whatever we have. That is our culture. You have something, you pack it up and you give it to them.”

She grew up watching her parents do just this. Whenever anyone came to their home, they always offered food.

On Easter and New Year’s Day, she remembers from childhood, her family gathered together. “We would eat, laugh and drink. I will never forget it,” she said with a smile.

She hopes to do this with family members in Ethiopia this summer. She hasn’t been back for almost five years.

“It can be lonely here,” Lama said. “Thank God I have friends, but sometimes you need family, too.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: