Making friends with St. Marys’ newest family

By Dan Rankin
When I set out with members of the St. Marys Refugee Sponsorship Group last Friday morning, I wasn’t entirely sure what the plans for the day would be, other than, by the end of the day, I would hopefully have some photos of a happy Syrian family being reunited. I knew we would be going to Toronto in a sort of three-vehicle convoy in order to bring back all seven members of the family the local group had sponsored, along with their luggage. I also knew two members of the family had left Lebanon ahead of the other five and were already in St. Marys, but I was still surprised when we pulled into the driveway of a St. Marys home shortly after out initial departure. The first two members of the family, the matriarch Warda and her 20-year-old daughter Marah, would be travelling in the same vehicle as me for the two-hour drive to Toronto. I have to admit, for a second there I sort of froze. But it didn’t take long sitting next to these smiling, friendly women for me to feel completely comfortable again. During the drive, Marah and I quickly exhausted the conversations we could have through her basic English and my non-existent Arabic. But rather than just sit there awkwardly, we did what young people around the world do these days – took out our phones. She showed me photos of her hanging out with her friends, and others with her family standing on top of a cliff by the Mediterranean Coast in Beirut. I showed her photos I had of my family from Christmas, and from a recent trip, and my dog. She had a lot of sunset photos of the Mediterranean. I had a lot of sunset photos of Lake Huron. Then she surprised me by playing a music video that she assured me had English as well as Arabic singing. The song, “One Day” by the Iranian and Swedish artist Arash featuring Helena, wasn’t exactly my style (it was the sort of pop music I imagine is very popular on the Middle Eastern equivalent of American Idol), but then, I’m sure that’s exactly the reaction I would have had to a pop song shown to me by any 20-year-old English Canadian person. Looking ahead to the trip to Toronto, I hadn’t considered the possibility that I might make some new friends. But, at the end of the day, we were all in their new home, telling stories, joking and having a delicious meal surrounded by St. Marys residents old and new – and that was exactly what had happened.