Finding A Piece of Baghdad in Detroit

Sarms Jabra lives in and works for the city of Detroit. But occasionally, he’ll find a portal to his birthplace, Baghdad, in the middle of this international city.

Meet Sarms, short for Sarmed Yasser Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. 

Sarms was 32 when we spoke last year, and lives in Detroit. But he often wonders about the place where he was born — Baghdad. 

“It was Iraq versus everybody in the early 90’s,” Jabra says. 

The United Nations had just imposed sanctions on Iraq. Hospitals were out of supplies. His newborn baby brother was sick and the family couldn’t get medicine. His family left, and it’s been 30 years since then. 

Now, he works for the city of Detroit to end homelessness. Some memories of Baghdad loom large, like eating fried eggs with his Grandmother. However, his birthplace is physically and emotionally distant from his present home. But he’s found a kind of portal to his past here in Detroit.

He took me to Gabriel Imports in Eastern Market. From the outside, the shop doesn’t look like much. Pictures of various slabs of meat, faded into the same shade as the building’s brick. Handwritten signs tell wanderer’s to taste “Mr. Basterma’s Best Basterma.” But inside there’s a homeyness that transcends ingredients. 

Kareema Sandros, the owner, chases Sarms down for a hug. They have a special bond, and Sarms says the flavors, sights and scents of the store send him back into his mother’s pantry. 

“She’s like my sun,” he says of Sandros. “She’s like my mom.”

For her, the shop is a gateway to the bustling markets in downtown Baghdad. 

Click on the player above to hear how Sarms can find a place in Detroit that allows him to traverse borders and capture the feeling of being in two places at once. 

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