Safaa and Yasir, Syrian refugees and the owners of Jasmine Syrian Cuisine in Benoni

A Delicious Syrian Meal and a Rant About Refugees

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.

Jasmine front doorJasmine’s beautiful wooden front door.

Yasir serves coffee at JasmineYasir prepares to serve us aromatic Syrian coffee, flavoured with cardamom.

Food at JasmineA table of delicious food.

“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 TimesTrump’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 f@ck 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.

Safaa and Yasir, Syrian refugees and the owners of Jasmine Syrian Cuisine in BenoniBring on the ideas. I’m ready.

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.

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35 Comments

  • Reply Helen January 28, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    Ive just been in Benoni on holiday but have left for Australia before I read your post. What a pity as I would have loved to find this restaurant and enjoy the Syrian food.
    I am, like you horrified by Donald Trump and read with increasing anger this morning of the reports of banning citizens of Muslim Countries. People just don’t get it… how would the citizens of the US or UK or Australia feel with they were banned and denied enter into Europe or Africa or Asia. I fear that this is all gonna end up very badly for the world.
    (hoping and praying for an impeachment soon!)

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2017 at 8:47 am

      Thanks Helen, I’m sorry you missed Jasmine! Next time, I guess. Thanks for the comment.

  • Reply Canuck January 29, 2017 at 5:27 am

    Here’s a suggestion……send them our way……Canada’s borders remain open! We are the large land mass north of the 49th parallel….we’re not armed…..there is no wall……we’re a part of NAFTA – for now I guess. So far we are not in the crosshairs of the new President. On the other hand it’s like “all day Apprentice” here between CNN and FOX. We just keep asking…..how in the hell did this happen?

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2017 at 8:47 am

      I’m also confused over how all this happened. It’s a literal nightmare. And yes, thank goodness for Canada and your reasonable government. I might be thinking about joining you up there myself if I weren’t in South Africa.

  • Reply Alison January 29, 2017 at 6:01 am

    I completely understand your anger and am right there with you. Every day we’re getting hit with a new, ridiculous executive order that is laced with hatred and and ignorance. In addition to attending my local Women’s March, what’s helping me right now is focusing on the actions I myself CAN do and the issues that are most important to me. I know I can’t fight for everything or focus on everything, so even a simple act like supporting a local business such as this one actually has lasting, positive consequences. We can all support each other! Every little bit counts. Thanks for your post.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2017 at 8:46 am

      Thanks Alison. All these great comments are lifting my spirits.

  • Reply Julie January 29, 2017 at 6:59 am

    Thanks Heather, I’ll try the restaurant (looks amazing). Yes, I agree we can support each other and your writing actually helped me temper my anger on the topic. It gave me the courage to look at the news – even though I have been avoiding it in the last couple of days – and look, there is hope!
    Trump executive order: US judge temporarily halts deportations
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38786660

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2017 at 8:45 am

      Thanks Julie! And yes, great news on the stay. Let’s hope it holds.

  • Reply BJHamm January 29, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Thank you for your post about our so-called leader. I know many people around the world are watching America in astonishment. Today, seeing “refugees” apprehended in our airports, really made this horror show come to a breaking point for many. Thank goodness for the peaceful protesters, Congress people, and the judge who announced a stay for the EO. We need people all around the world knowing the majority of Americans do not support this man, his cabinet choices, or the Republican Congressional leaders who don’t have the nerve to stand up to him. Thank you for your powerful post.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Yes, I’m so relived to wake up to news of the stay. Although as you’ll see in one of the other comments, it seems that officials at some airports are not complying…Grrrrrr. Anyway, I guess we’ll keep fighting.

  • Reply violetonlineisonline January 29, 2017 at 8:14 am

    I feel your pain and the pain of all decent Americans. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
    I guess the most we can all do is be kind, decent, active people. RESIST where possible.
    Do not let fear win. Do not let hatred win.
    And great blog with great meaning and feeling.
    LOVE.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2017 at 8:43 am

      Thanks Violet. xx

  • Reply autumnashbough January 29, 2017 at 8:20 am

    I hear you, I share your outrage. The best thing, of course, is to call your Congressional reps and demand that they overturn the Executive Orders. Which Congress can do, only it will take a 2/3 majority, which the Democrats obviously don’t have. The point is to put pressure on the Republicans. And that’s going to take calls, petitions, and protests.

    So I’m heading down to the LAX protest tomorrow. And I’ll give Trump the metaphorical finger — for you and me and every other decent American.

    Meanwhile, my lawyer sis and her lawyer flashmobs are working overtime with restraining orders and stays. Except that at Dulles Airport, the Customs/ Border Patrol aren’t complying with the judges (I just know these are white male Trump good ol’ boys). So now they’re bringing in contempt of court and the U.S. Marshals. This should be fun.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2017 at 8:42 am

      Wow, good for you and lawyer sis. It must be great to be able to do something that has an immediate impact. Also, I’ve always HATED Dulles Airport and now I hate it even more. Assholes.

      • Reply autumnashbough January 29, 2017 at 4:37 pm

        Well, if you watch the people cheering when those detained were finally released, you may love it again. 🙂

  • Reply Kate January 29, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I’d be interested in any ideas people send/give you, Heather. I’m willing to do everything but call (phone phobia).

  • Reply Charmain January 29, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Thank you so much for this post that shed some light on what an EO is, and on the actions Americans are taking to mitigate Trump’s madness. I am most grateful, however, to you for bringing Jasmine to my attention. We will certainly make the trek out to the far east – both for excellent food and to support Safaa and Yasir, and let them know they are welcome in South Africa.

  • Reply thirdeyemom January 29, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    This has become a living nightmare Heather and I am so sick to my stomach. Today we are organizing a protest at Minneapolis airport as Minnesota is home to the largest population of Somalis outside of Somalia. We can’t let this tyrant win!!!!! It is awful!

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2017 at 5:53 pm

      Good luck at the protest 🙂

  • Reply It's only P! January 29, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    Those who are so violently against him should not be surprised at his abysmal conduct in the farce that he plays a role in. Let’s be honest, the more abysmal it is, the sooner he will stop being president. I am somewhat surprised that you use so much of this post to vent your disapproval.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      I’m surprised that you’re surprised.

      • Reply Kate January 30, 2017 at 9:31 am

        Haha, Heather- that’s EXACTLY how I would have responded if this were my blog! 😄 Hey, it’s her blog, she can write whatever she likes. Sometimes we all need a place to vent or person to vent to, and why not on a personal blog site? ✊🏽 Viva la resistance!

      • Reply Z February 6, 2017 at 11:25 am

        Hi Heather

        Whenever I read your blog I’m envious of your success. I read reviews of luxury restaurants or of your frequent trips to different places in Africa or your house that looks incredibly fancy. I always wonder if you can afford all of that just by blogging (supposedly that’s your primary source of income)

        I also wonder who’s your demographic supposed to be

        Regular people like me can’t afford to just have a weekend off and enjoy vineyards of Cape Town. I suppose that expat elite like diplomats who live in Pretoria most certainly can but do do those people actually have time to read and create blogs for profit?

        And it comes down to this — this blog has no heart of its own. This blog takes away all the real moments like pain and suffering and just real and mundane moments of living overseas.

        This blog is like a beautiful Instagram feed — where it’s possible to edit your life so it looks perfect, but everyone knows it’s not real, it’s not honest, it’s so beautiful that it starts to become ugly because if every picture is beautiful how do we know if you’re actually telling your readers the truth and not editing your life to sound perfect?

        Yet that’s the world we live in today — profit over common humanity. Does Facebook actually bring people together? No. Does Tinder help you find love? Probably fear and rejection.
        This isn’t an authentic blog of someone experiencing Johannesburg.

        Most of the things here are paid bilge and even little bit of vulnerability I see here is calculated and controlled.

        You even went as far as writing about your ex and calling him an abusive alcoholic years after he died – now how does that help anyone other than yourself exactly? The whole situation is done, may he rest in peace. I thought we weren’t supposed to talk badly about dead people. I guess you wanted your reader’s sympathy. If that part of your life was really sacred to you, it never would have been up for sale or reader vies. Vile.

        Why would you say such things about a dead man when the whole thing is over and done with and he can’t say anything back?

        Is everything for sale, Heather? How about some morals?

        Which is why you writing about Trump or Syrian refugees makes serious issues banal.

        You’re in business of feeding your readers lies all the time and creating an image.

        Do you really feel seriously about any of those issues or are you just saying the right thing to make a buck?

        So yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s YOUR blog but it’s also paid and manufactured inauthentic bilge. You have your right to create it but other people don’t have to like it.

        I genuinely can’t imagine a human being reading your blog or finding something authentic here or feeling better after reading it when deep down they know, it’s all manufactured, soulless, and for sale.

        • Reply 2summers February 6, 2017 at 12:30 pm

          Hi Z,

          I’m not sure where to begin to respond to your comment. I never delete comments but I did delete the comment in which you swore at one of my readers, because I simply won’t accept that.

          I won’t try to respond to every point you made, but I will say a few things:

          1) Very few of the posts on my blog are paid posts, and only a small percentage of them are about experiences/trips that I’ve received for free. In the cases where posts are paid or when I receive things for free, I always disclose that at the bottom of the post. I have indeed been very lucky to receive lots of amazing travel opportunities because of this blog. But I’ve also worked very hard on my blog and that hard work pays off. Also, every word that I write in this blog is 100% honest.

          2) Most of the money I earn is not from blogging (not that this is any of your business). I am very fortunate to have a flexible lifestyle that allows me to blog often while not earning very much money at it. Compared to the vast majority of people in the world, I am very privileged. I’ve never denied that and I never will.

          3) You criticized my blog for being overly positive and not authentic, but then you criticized me for writing honestly about my relationship with Jon, which was at times wonderful and at other times very difficult. You even went so far as to tell me what you think is, and is not, okay for me to say about a very traumatic and painful period in my life. I’m not sure what your agenda is. But as Kate said, the content of this blog belongs to me. I can say what I want, and if you don’t like what I say then you’re more than welcome not to read.

          You’re welcome to comment again, if you’d like to have a rational discussion about the content of this post. But if you use profanity in a way that is insulting toward me or my readers, I’ll delete your comment and block you from commenting again.

  • Reply Louis January 30, 2017 at 8:43 am

    I always enjoy your insightful posts – and yes, sometimes there is a place for sharing and vocalising anger and disbelief at things that affect us (going against the urge to hideaway and browse blogs instead of processing real risks and battles that need to be fought in our world today) I think your summary above was objective and fair. Let’s all stand up for what is right and just in whichever way we can.

    • Reply 2summers January 30, 2017 at 8:47 am

      Thanks Louis. I’m grateful to have a blog at times like this – it gives me a platform to vocalize things that I might otherwise suppress.

  • Reply Natalie Hilton-Barber January 30, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Heather, your words mean so much. You might not have all the answers but you are using the platform you have to speak up.

    I find that I am so paralysed by shock and terror that I can’t articulate my thoughts. I studied International Relations, I’ve worked with NGOs all my life, this is my thing, I’m familiar with the theories and schools of thought. But now, that this is becoming REALITY and not just an academic argument, I have lost the ability to express reason.

    People, South Africans, who I thought were my friends applaud what I consider an atrocity, argue in favour of what in my book is plain indecency and sweep reasoned arguments off the table. I don’t know what to do anymore, what to say, how to stand up to this.

    Thank you for using your voice and making a stand.

    • Reply 2summers January 30, 2017 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment, Natalie. It’s good to know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

  • Reply Louise Whitworth January 30, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    The situation is heartbreaking, the western world really seems to have lost all perspective on what it means to be a refugee and our moral obligations to protect victims of conflict. Never mind the totally bonkers all-out ban on people from countries (for no explained reason) Trump has decided America doesn’t like. You might find this useful – list of US senators and governors and their responses (or in many cases lack of response) and how you can contact them. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/1/d/1hSGjyWJZIQJpGz4V2ftX_qioCgBtL59oJkkhx146nFE/htmlview?sle=true#

    • Reply 2summers January 30, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      Oh yes, I actually saw this link earlier somewhere else but didn’t get around to opening it. I’ll look at it now — thanks. I did email my own Congressman about this issue this morning, although all my representatives are Democrats and almost certainly anti-Trump on everything.

  • Reply Eva Melusine Thieme February 2, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    Amen, is all I can say. I suppose you’re preaching to the choir here, but still it’s brave of you to say exactly how you feel – including the salty language.

    We have all been sick here to our stomachs. Each day I open the newspaper with dread as to what else this insane president of ours has done. Yes, I truly think he is insane. What’s despicable is all those advisers around him that are clearly not insane but love the scent of power and the opportunity to put their imprint on the way our country is run, no matter the consequences. Shame on you, Mike Pence. Shame on you, Paul Ryan. Shame on you, my senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. They are not so different from the Goehrings and Himmlers and Goebbels’ of the world.Enabling an insane leader has led to one of the biggest crimes in history, and here some of our politicians are doing it again. Well, not on the people’s watch. Let’s hope they don’t succeed in stripping the 1st amendment more and more of its teeth, or we’ll be in real trouble. We all have to continue to speak out. The day any of us are silenced out of fear, in whichever form that may be, will be a very dark day indeed. So, three big cheers to your blog and to all bloggers out there!

    I have no idea what you can do, but protesting seems to be the next best thing. I’m already on pussy hat #3 and have taught my daughters to knit their own. They are very energized. There are two good things that have come from the Trump debacle, and that is a) I have found my love of knitting again, and b) my children have found their political passion. They are as disgusted as all of us and are starting to speak up. They see it as their duty to stop injustice when they see it. Oh, and a third thing, c) my girls are more aware than ever before of the fact that their bodies are their own and that no one is allowed to touch them or take their rights away. These are all good things, and I cling to those. And I march with all the others who are disgusted too.

    In the short term, the protests may not have much effect, but in the long term this country will wake up. Maybe it has to get worse before it gets better, for everyone, even the benighted people who voted for him, to realize that democracy is precarious and that nothing can ever be taken for granted, and that we have to fight for our rights and our freedom.

    Aaaaah, that felt good. Nothing like a good rant, although I have SOOOOO much more to say:)

    • Reply 2summers February 3, 2017 at 10:09 am

      I can’t imagine what it must be like for you, living in a red state in America. Well done for finding some positives 🙂

    • Reply Z February 6, 2017 at 11:30 am

      Sine, thank you for being an authentic voice for both Jozi and the US. God knows we need people like you in this dark hour

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