Capturing the scent of jasmine

June 13, 2017

WASHINGTON (WRMEA) - In the Old City of Damascus stands Beit Jabri, a restaurant serving traditional Syrian dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s the same house where Dr. Anan Ameri, a Palestinian American, spent summers in her youth with her grandfather, aunts and cousins.

“You know Damascus and you know the Syrian people, and you see it destroyed in front of your eyes,” she said at a June 12 event hosted by the Palestine Center in Washington, DC. “That breaks your heart, that really breaks your heart.”

In her new book, The Scent of Jasmine: Coming of Age in Jerusalem and Damascus, Ameri presents a vignette of stories from her childhood, from playing with her first pet to attending her first protest. Her Syrian mother’s wealthy family was a constant presence; her Palestinian father’s family had scattered after the Nakba, the forced 1948 Palestinian exodus. 

“I identify as Palestinian American because we really have a just cause, we are the Native Americans of the 20th century,” Ameri explained. “I came of age in the rise of the Palestinian liberation movement and the Palestinian identity.”

With her book, Ameri said she hopes to help break down stereotypes that many Americans have about the Middle East. Each chapter tells a different story, set in a range of locations—from Jerusalem and Damascus, where she learned her first lessons about womanhood, to Amman, Beirut and Cairo, as she studied to become a sociologist. Today, she lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

“I am a woman, a Muslim, Palestinian and Arab. So to the average American, I am the embodiment of everything that is evil,” she said. “But if you read this book, you find out where we grew up, we grew up like every other culture.”

Ameri, who is also the founding director of both the Palestine Aid Society of America and the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, said she had written down stories from her life over the years, carrying her notes from office to office throughout her career. After she retired as director of the Arab American National Museum in 2012, she began compiling these stories, which were so extensive that she is planning a sequel. 

“I want younger people to know that what the Arab world is today is not our fate,” she said. ”This is not our fate, this shall not be our fate, and that this too shall pass.”

The Scent of Jasmine is available from the Washington Report’s bookstore, Middle East Books and More.