Princess & Activist: A Proud Keeper of Heritage

conservation women healers of the world Jun 26, 2024
portrait of Basma bint Ali

The following is an excerpt from Holly Bellebuono's award-winning documentary book Women Healers of the World. It's excerpted from a longer interviewed Holly did with Princess Basma bint Ali of Jordan; the book is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year.

Picture a doting father leaning over his curious daughter as he shows her how to push a small seed into the dirt: it’s an image many of us relate to, as our parents taught us as children to plant seeds. This father, in particular, went further than most: he taught his young daughter not only to cover the seed with dirt and to water it, but also how to collect seeds, cure and germinate them, prune, and even stock and layer plants and trees, as well as to appreciate the different varieties of a single species.

This was no ordinary father and daughter: This was His Royal Highness Ali bin Nayef Sultanzade, son of HRH Prince Nayef bin Abdullah the second son of King Abdullah, the First Founder of Jordan, and Her Imperial Highness Princess Mihrimah Sultana. And the young girl enthralled with the idea that a whole plant sprouts from a single seed was Her Royal Highness Princess Basma bint Ali. Since that fairy-tale childhood, Princess Basma has figuratively walked in shoes of every stripe and color: those of mother, conservationist, retired military officer, and Princess of Jordan. Her most recent shoes are hiking boots to establish ecological habitats at the new 800-hectare Royal Botanic Garden of Jordan, which she founded in 2005.

“My father loved geraniums,” Princess Basma told me. “He would collect them from all sorts of places, but mostly from Spain. My parents are my mentors, in that they always encouraged and supported me.”

Conservation & the Natural World

Basma also credits her mother with lifelong inspiration for the natural world. Her mother, celebrated artist HRH Princess Wijdan Fawaz Al-Hashimi, PhD, is the President and founder of the Royal Society of Fine Arts (1979) and the National Gallery of Fine Arts (1980) Amman, Jordan, and she is currently the Jordanian Ambassador to Italy. She would insist her children spent the majority of their time outdoors around the capital city of Amman, in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. “She would always have us gather what ever we could find from the garden,” Basma says, “and use it for making arts and crafts. In so doing she made us see the beauty in the simplest things, be it a rock, twig or an ordinary flower.”

Basma’s childhood was joyfully filled with the collection of seeds, and her father taught her how to cure and germinate her finds. “He even helped me set up a solarium in the balcony of my bedroom. I remember distinctively when eating fruits I would collect the seeds and then propagate them. The one seed which stood out was the date seed because we had to place it in the freezer for nearly two weeks before seeding it. The very idea of which I found to be quite absurd, since dates came from the date palm which stereotypically meant it came from the desert.”

Growing up in a desert climate seemed particularly harsh for eight-year-old Basma, until her father’s keen eye taught her a patient wisdom for her. “I used to view the desert as a hot and unforgiving climate. But my father made me realize that if we re-create the in-situ conditions we are more likely to succeed in our efforts [of seed germination]. This led me to become more observant and sensitive to the bio-geographic conditions surrounding the plants, species associations as well as the climatic changes during the seasons and how important it is to observe them.” On weekend picnics in the desert, her family would glide across the sands in convoys of four or five cars, passing dunes, curves and topography that appeared nearly featureless.

“At first it’s a monotone of yellow beige, then suddenly out of nowhere we would arrive at a Bedouin tent where our lunch was waiting for us. To the untrained eye, one would assume we were traveling haphazardly, but my father knew exactly where we were. I was in awe of his ability to navigate the desert. Trying to emulate him I started to look for the minutest details in the landscape and see beyond the surface. It forced me to feel the soul of the earth.”

To continue reading this interview and others from Women Healers of the World, you may purchase a copy here:

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