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At Syriana Cafe, co-owners hope to heal America's divisions with cultural understanding

Immigrants from Syria offer a refuge in small town America.

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — How do we reunite a divided country?

A small cafe in a tiny town that's seen more than its share of trouble is trying to find a way.

In a world where a lot of us have retreated into our own political corners, suspicious of anyone who disagrees, the Syriana Cafe in Ellicott City is trying to escape the flood of division and distrust and find a way to bring us together.

"From our small platform, we just try and project that there is a common narrative," Majd AlGhatrif said, the cafe's co-owner. He left Syria more than a decade ago and found a place here in a town that reminded him of the stone hills and narrow alleys of home.

He's now a doctor at Johns Hopkins and NIH. "America is a great place. I don't think I would have the opportunities that I was given her anywhere else," he said.

He's made a home for other refugees. "This place means a lot to me because I feel like I work with a family," Reema Al Faheed, a worker at the cafe and a Palestinian-American said. Her family fled Iraq and Syria before finally finding a home in Maryland.

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At the Syriana Cafe, they serve not just falafel, hummus, and baba ghanoush. They sell handicrafts made by craftsmen and women in struggling in Syria. They bring in musicians. And they offer people a space to meet and to talk.

"This is a great place. I come here like once a week," customer Peter Acosta said. "It's like a very family-oriented place. They know me, we talk, we always have a great conversation," he said. 

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When floods tore through this old mill town, AlGhatrif turned to a Syrian American community already facing its own troubles -- and raised $10,000 to help his neighbors. "Here there was an urge to give back. We appreciate what America has done," he said.

AlGhatrif hopes to share the rich tapestry of America, and by celebrating how we're all different, help weaves us back together. "I have many hopes for the future," he said.

The White House travel ban on Syrians has kept AlGhatrif's parents from coming here to visit their grandchildren. But that's failed to shake his vision of an America that welcomed him and his wife with kindness and love.

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