UPDATE (March 2017): I’m very sad to say that Jasmine Syrian Cuisine has closed. I’m not sure why. I’ll post updates here if anything changes.
I recently had lunch at a Syrian restaurant, Jasmine Syrian Cuisine, in Joburg’s far-eastern suburb of Benoni. Safaa Jabri Al Rehawi and her husband, Yasir, opened Jasmine last year after moving to South Africa as refugees from Syria.
“Did you run a restaurant in Syria too?” I asked Sanaa as she took our orders and explained the menu in patient detail. Sanaa smiled and shook her head. She was a student back in Damascus, she explained, and Yasir ran a candy shop. “We had to leave…” Sanaa gestured vaguely. “The war. And we had to find something to do here.”
I had initially planned to write a restaurant review of Jasmine as part of my #Gauteng52 series. But I’ve decided not to. My friend Marie-Lais, who went to Jasmine with me, has written a fantastic review of the restaurant. Everything you need to know about the food is there.
Instead I’m going to talk about Syrian refugees and my home country, the United States of America.
If you were asleep under a rock this week, perhaps you don’t know that Donald Trump, the new President of the United States, signed some executive orders relating to immigration into the U.S.
(Note: Executive orders are not laws — they’re sneaky ways for presidents to circumvent the law. I don’t totally understand myself. But just know that executive orders are easier to overturn than laws and hopefully that will happen as soon as this asshole leaves office. Hopefully sooner rather than later.)
President Trump’s executive orders suspended all refugee entry into the U.S. for 120 days, and indefinitely barred all citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States.
Did you hear that? As of yesterday evening, EVERY citizen of these seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — is banned from entering the United States. Indefinitely.
The true impact of this executive order didn’t hit me until I read an article in the New York Times: Trump’s Order Blocks Immigrants at Airports, Stoking Fear Around Globe. The moment this order took effect, people bound for the United States from these seven countries — seven countries that seem very arbitrarily chosen, in my view — were turned away from airline check-in counters, removed from airplanes, and detained in U.S. airports. People with (previously) valid visas. Parents with children. People trying to reunite with their war-torn families. People with American green cards, on the brink of becoming U.S. citizens.
As I read the above article, my heart began to pound and my breathing became shallow. I thought of Sanaa, to whom I spoke all of five sentences, standing next to my table in her restaurant in Benoni. I thought of her wide-open face and her fragrant coffee. I felt white. Hot. Fury.
How dare you, President Trump? I realize you have zero empathy for others. I realize you don’t give a sh*t about the people you’re hurting, the families you’re tearing apart, the potential terrorist acts you’re inciting, with a flick of your pen. I realize you’ll never read this and if you did, you still wouldn’t give a flying [email protected] about anyone except yourself. But I’ll ask you again: HOW DARE YOU?
You horrify me, President Trump. I’m ashamed to call myself an American.
I thought I’d use this post as a call to action — inspiring people to fight the evil infecting my country and the world. But who am I kidding? I can’t inspire anyone who hasn’t been inspired already. And I don’t have a clue what to suggest.
But whatever it is, I’m ready to do it. I’ll write letters, make phone calls, donate money, volunteer my time. Whatever I can do, sitting here in Johannesburg 8000 miles from Washington D.C., I’ll do it. I’ll do anything to help people like Sanaa and Yasir — people like them who aren’t lucky enough to land somewhere safe.
I just need suggestions. Please send.
At the very least, I’ll make the 40-minute trek to Benoni and keep eating food from Jasmine.
Jasmine is at 206 Elston Avenue, Benoni. Contact them at +27-62-976-2609.
Update (29 January): A federal judge has issued an emergency stay against the executive order banning people from the seven countries, protecting those who were in transit to America at the time the order was signed. The people who were initially detained have been released (thank goodness). I’ll keep posting updates as I hear them.
Update (30 January): Confusion continues regarding what these executive orders actually mean.