Meet your neighbour: Assma Basalamah

By Jennifer Morin

2024 March-April Meet your neighbour: Assma Basalamah

Who are you?

I’m your neighbour and a member of the Manor Park Community Association board. I have the delight of mostly supporting the legal structure of the incredible work of individuals who advocate for our neighborhood with a lot of care and integrity.

Where were you born?

I was born in Switzerland to parents and grandparents of Syrian, Palestinian, Yemeni and Indonesian origins.

Why did you choose your occupation? Did you ever consider another occupation?

I was called to the bar as a lawyer the same year I was called to motherhood and have so far had the privilege to dedicate the better part of my days to the latter and am beginning to consider options ahead that could thread family, community work and legal work together. Yeah, I know, wish me luck!

What is the most important thing in your life right now?

The people who nourish me, the people in my mosque community.

Why do you live in Manor Park?

It seemed like a perfect balance of access to nature and to the city.

What do you do to stay healthy?

Pray. Wellness is a pretty big deal.

What is the last book that you read?

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017 by Rashid Khalidi.

What has been one of your biggest challenges?

One of my biggest challenges has been to go about my day’s work while witnessing tragedy in my grandmother’s homeland in Gaza, in sight and out of reach. But as South Africa showed us, collective consciousness does have incredible reach, and if I could open one heart or set of eyes to that, it’d be enough for me.

If you could have dinner with any three people alive or dead, who would you choose? What would you serve?

Probably with prophets Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad. I would serve kosher halal, obviously. And hopefully it would be our first and not our last.

Who would you cast to play you in a movie about your life?

That’s a tough one. Hollywood is a bit more diverse today but not enough to catch up with my genetic makeup.

What is your favourite childhood memory?

Watching Heidi with my grandmother back in Geneva.

If I won the lottery, I would spend my winnings on . . .

A community land trust. (Editor’s note: The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association defines a community land trust as “a non-profit corporation that obtains and holds land and housing for the benefit of the community in which it exists.” For more information on community land trusts, see

My favourite thing about Ottawa is . . . ?

It may seem devoid of culture, but it has thriving hidden subculture pockets that are wonderful once you step into them.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I might be an urban farmer with my husband or an attorney or still a full-time mother and community organizer. Life is exciting because we can’t see much further past our own two feet.

What do you wish to teach your children about the world?

A saying my mom would always say in Arabic—“Contentment with what you have is an infinite treasure”.

When all is said and done . . .

I want to share a story that happened to me just weeks ago.

You really can’t make this stuff up: I was at a parent-toddler activity and I recognized a mom I had seen at other neighborhood programs before, so we talked and really hit it off.

As we joked and laughed I had assumed she was Middle Eastern. Before we said goodbye, I asked her, “I bet you’re Lebanese but just in case, are you Palestinian?”

At that point her face really changed. So I asked again if she was Palestinian and she finally said, “I’m from the other side.” I had a hearty laugh at her reply. I said, “Yeah some people also call it Israel.” She said, “You don’t hate me?” I said, “No, of course not!”

Then she looked at me and our children, who both have French Canadian fathers and could pass for siblings, and she said with tears in her eyes, “I’m so sorry for what’s happening to your people, for the children being killed,” and we both somehow ended up in each other’s sobbing arms.

Not your average chat between parents at a play and stay program, but we sat down and talked for an hour about her life in Jaffa, once Yafa. About what was once my grandma’s home city of Jerusalem. About the inevitable violence that violence breeds . . . and about staying in touch.

Note: This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity and space.

Meet your neighbour: Assma Basalamah: Assma Basalamah volunteers with the Manor Park Community Association as chair of its governance committee. In addition to her training as a lawyer, she also does graphics and illustration work. For a sample of her work, view this Chronicle article. Photo provided