LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – An African-born chef took a chance on playing a lottery game versus eating dinner, and she ended up winning something priceless.
Angela Sayo was not always cooking with stainless steel appliances in Lake George. Her love of food began over a firewood stove in a village in the African country of Cameroon.
“In our culture, we are supposed to learn how to cook so that they can keep a home and family,” she said.
But for Sayo, it ran deeper than that.
“To me it was not just about the duties of cooking,” she said. “It was more about a passion.”
Between watching the FOX show “MasterChef” and cooking pizza for American Peace Corps volunteers in her village, Sayo couldn’t stop picturing life as a professional chef in America.
“I loved the idea of doing it as more than a duty in a home where you serve your husband and your kids,” she said. “I wanted it as a livelihood.”
Two years later, fate stepped in. Sayo and her sister saw a sign for the Diversity VISA Lottery, an immigration lottery “game” that gives some lucky players from countries with low immigration rates the chance to become a citizen of the United States.
“We were out on Main Street in my town walking down, and I was, like, ‘Oh, I’m really hungry I want a sandwich. When I get a sandwich, we can go home,’” she recalled. “And then when we walked by the shop, it said in front of it ‘DV 2016 Lottery Play Here.’ And so she said, ‘Let’s go play the lottery.’ I was like, ‘I would love to, but I really want a sandwich and I have enough money for the sandwich. If I play the lottery, there’s no money for my sandwich, so no.’”
It’s no surprise she was skeptical. Statistics show that people in Cameroon have had less than a two percent chance of winning.
“People play it all the time, but they know it’s like gambling, you know,” she said. “It’s like, eh, let’s just go do it.”
But Sayo caved. She played the lottery for the first and only time, and won something money can’t buy: a life in the United States.
“So I started screaming, and I woke up everyone in the house,” she said. “My dad was like, ‘You better have a good reason for this.’ He was so mad. I was like, ‘Oh, my reason is great.’”
Now, Sayo is acclimating to her life in the Capital Region. She got her first job working in the kitchen at the Sagamore Hotel and then took on a new role.
“My winning is like my family winning the lottery because I get to help them,” she said.
But she didn’t stop there. Last spring, Sayo completed culinary school at the New England Culinary Institute and received her diploma – something she said women in Cameroon can only dream of.
“Most girls that grow up in places that I know don’t even think about life anywhere else,” she said.
Her drive and ambition knows no bounds. Now that she has conquered the kitchen, Soya started taking nurses classes.
Why? Her answer was plain and simple: because she can.
“I can be a nurse, but back home that wouldn’t happen because where I come from, sometimes you do things just because that’s where life is taking you and not because they’re choices that you make,” she said. “But here you get to make choices, and that’s amazing.”
Sayo said she sometimes pinches herself at night. She still can’t believe that it wasn’t all just some wild, perfect American Dream.
“It was crazy. The craziest thing that ever happened.”