This first month is the first chapter of many firsts for Abdu, Seba, Rawan, Mahmoud and Hamza.
One thing everyone who has met the Shaarani’s can attest to is that they have each done remarkably well for all the changes they have embraced over the past four weeks. Their smiles, laughter and eagerness to learn and thrive is evident in everything they do. This family represents the part of every Canadian with immigrant roots. That’s most of us. They remind us of the journey that many of our forefathers made. Approaching the Canada 150 celebration marks the anniversary of just that; all those roads less travelled, taken by ourselves, our parents or generations before that have brought us as Canadian citizens to where we are today.
The journey the Shaarani’s have travelled is very fresh. Their wounds of departure from their homeland are still fresh. But their eyes shine bright with hope. They are in Canada after all, and how fortunate they are to be in this country, let alone this province or town of Fort St. James. The Shaarani’s are literally grateful beyond words!
The story the Shaarani’s translators have no doubt repeated for them many times already is one that will hurt them a little each time it is repeated. Of course they are proud of their testimony of survival. But mixed in with the joy is the pang of homesickness and flash-backs of trauma as they confront the bittersweet reality of what has happened and how far they have come.
From living a good life in Syria before the war, enjoying work, the love of extended family close by, business thriving and kids doing well at school to fleeing their home in Aleppo for what certainly looks like forever, if not a very long long time.
The unrest pushed them out of their home, to seek shelter with friends and relatives in neighbouring towns and cities, further and further away from the conflict until they had no choice but to leave their country and escape across the border. In Turkey they continued life somehow still in shock, no doubt, making ends meet in Turkey for weeks and months which became two years in exile before hearing their application for refugee status in Canada was accepted.
Life in Turkey was an adjustment, a different culture and language, a place of respite yet still harsh and unwelcoming in many senses. There is lots of tension in Turkey because of the millions of Syrians who have flooded their borders seeking refuge. It’s not home but at least they had escaped to Turkey with their family – Abdu had to take odd jobs in supply and delivery of food items and goods to restaurants and businesses. The factory where he and his three brothers worked, a successful business they learned from their father, was destroyed in the bombing and destruction of Aleppo. One of Abdu’s brothers left Turkey and tried to go back to Syria to check on how things were at the factory and he was captured, prevented from returning to Turkey. He is stuck there on the wrong side of the border; wrong in terms of safety, but right where his heart remains.
Abdu worries about his brother in Syria, they can communicate over telephone but they choose their words very carefully for fear all communication is monitored. Abdu worries about his family in Turkey too. He heard just the other day that one of his brothers in Turkey was accosted in the street, beat up really badly in front of his pregnant wife who begged the Turkish attackers to stop.
There is lots to worry about. Even here in the safe and welcoming embrace of the quintessentially Canadian residents of Fort St. James, he worries about their future. What will happen after this year of support is over? Abdu is desperate to start working already. Language is a huge barrier but he dreams of going to his job, of sitting in the drivers seat of a car, turning the ignition and hearing the engine start turning – the industrious sound of forward motion, of productivity, of freedom. He is in Canada, the land which offers more freedom than he could have hoped for, yet the very basics of independence has to come slowly. He has to think about starting over and learning to drive here, getting a new licence, finding a vehicle they can afford. As the industrious provider of his family he cannot help but feel restless to rebuild their lives. This hunger for stability, for a future for his children is what will drive him to achieve all that he desires.
Footnote: The more I come to know this family, the more I am delighted by their kind hearts and their energy for life. Say hello when you see them in town, at school, in the store, garden or park. Visit them, they love to hear a knock on the door.The coffee they make is unbelievably strong and delicious. Do not underestimate Seba’s coy smile – she has a vivacious personality. All of them have a healthy sense of humour. The three children seem to be doing great with learning English. It’s wonderful to hear how much they love their school – having the ipads to help with English is a fantastic tool. They can’t get over that their teachers and principle aren’t strict! Oh and how the love soccer. The Shaarani’s are a very sociable and likeable family. I encourage everyone to greet them, try to get to know them, visit with them with the Google translator app on your phone. Make them feel at home. They have a lot to offer our community and we are blessed to have them here. Well done to the committee of dedicated volunteers who worked to make this win-win opportunity a reality. And thank you so much Fatima for making communication possible.