New Paltz Streets Get Middle East Eats

Photo by Zach McGrath.
Photo by Zach McGrath.
Photo by Zach McGrath.

After losing two homes, a business and multiple friends to the bombs of Baghdad, Amal Maseer made the difficult decision of leaving behind the nation she called home. The Iraqi refugee would eventually find herself in New Paltz, where today she shares her unique and foreign culture inside Amal’s Authentic Middle Eastern Cuisine, at 25 N. Chestnut St.

“My dream is to form a communication between American culture and Middle Eastern culture. Many people in the United States do not understand the Middle East,” Maseer said. “It’s a 7,000 year-old civilization with its own culture but many Americans know nothing of it.”

For 18 years Maseer worked as a college professor in Baghdad. In 1993, when the United States under President Bill Clinton fired cruise missiles at the city in retaliation to the assassination attempt of former President George H.W. Bush by Iraqi agents in Kuwait, Maseer lost her first home.

She and her three children would relocate to what eventually would be known as the “Green Zone,” a 10-square kilometer area of central Baghdad surrounding Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s palace, where mortar and rocket shelling frequently occurred after the start of the Iraq War in 2001.

Come 2005, while working as a reporter for Lenabdae (“Let’s Start) — a magazine that focused on the restoration and management of post-war Iraq — Maseer’s second home would be destroyed along with an Internet cafe she ran.

“Every time there was crossfire between the American soldiers and Al-Qaeda, we were in the middle. That year I lost my second house to a bombing, five neighbors, including two 18-month-old twins,” Maseer said. “It was too much. Just too much.”

Using her connections as a reporter, Maseer and her family crossed into Jordan where she stayed for five years. In 2009, with help from friends in the United States, Maseer left Jordan and established residency in New Paltz, a town she chose for its “safe and calm” nature.

However, leaving her continent did not mean leaving her culture – as made evident by her restaurant.

Besides serving traditional eastern food, Amal uses the restaurant’s space to for belly dancing lessons as well as displaying her Middle Eastern artwork, for which she has had gallery openings and showings in New York City, London and France.

“I want to show Americans that [the Middle East] is nice and not what they see in the media. They know of Al-Qaeda, but Al-Qaeda does not belong to Iraq. I want them to really know who Iraqis are. I want to show [Americans] that now I belong to them,” Maseer said.

On her experience in America, Maseer said that while not in a state of war, it has its own difficulties that she was initially unfamiliar with. Maseer listed property taxes and healthcare as burdens that in other countries are governmental responsibilities, are shouldered by the people in America.

Despite these issues, Maseer is thankful.

“I went to many countries and met many people from many different countries,” Maseer. “But really, the people in America, they are good.”