Challenges remain for family members still overseas
The Ajjan Al Hadid family greets St. Marys Refugee Sponsorship Group chair Gwen Ament, right, in Toronto on Jan. 15 before traveling to their new home in St. Marys. From left are Ahmad, Kawthar, Marah, Maha, Mahmoud, Warda and Limar (front). Rankin Photo
By Dan Rankin
Around 9:00 am on Jan. 15, St. Marys Refugee Sponsorship Group member Stephen Habermehl set out for Toronto in his van. With him were the group’s chair Gwen Ament, as well as one very excited Syrian mother and her daughter, anxious to pick up the five other members of their family this community had sponsored to bring to Canada as refugees. A local News Editor was also along for the ride.
Warda Ajjan Al Hadid, right, was a beaming hostess for her family and guests for the first family dinner in their new home in St. Marys on Jan. 15.
A couple hours later, the caravan arrived at a hotel in Mississauga. Inside, packed shoulder-to-shoulder were other recently-arrived refugees of all ages and Canadian families attempting to locate the refugees they had sponsored. Within moments of entry, Sue Compas, a family friend of the Ajjan Al Hadid family’s St. Marys hosts who has roots in Jordan, greeted the St. Marys contingent. As only two members of the family spoke even limited English, and the number of Arabic-speaking St. Marys residents was quite low before last week, Compas proved invaluable as a translator for the Al Hadids; the service she provided was a luxury not many other sponsors at the hotel that day had for communicating with their newly-arrived guests.
Moments later, an adorable toddler ran up to hug her aunt and grandmother. It was Warda’s granddaughter Limar, and she hugged her grandma emphatically. Compas explained it was because Limar didn’t want to be separated from Warda again like she had the week before, when Warda and her 20-year-old daughter Marah flew to Canada ahead of the rest of the group.
Within minutes, Ament had filled in the necessary forms at the crowded lobby registration table and the other members of the family had arrived in the lobby with their belongings in tow. Ament and Habermehl were introduced to Marah’s older sister Maha, as well as her brother Mahmoud, his wife Kawthar, and their five-year-old son Ahmad, who had been ill with a fever for the past few days and didn’t appear as excited as his younger sister Limar.
“I heard you speak better English than your sister, Maha?” said Ament.
Maha laughed, before using the international hand signal for “eh, sort of.”
The group headed back outside with Mahmoud, who was injured by shrapnel during a bombing attack in their home city of Aleppo roughly four years ago, favouring a cane. In Syria before the war, Warda’s husband had operated a number of factories that produced sugar, corn starch and flour. On their farm, he had grown grapes. He passed away in 2008 before the Arab Spring and outbreak of war. Warda said she was glad he had not lived to see what happened to their country.
Split up into three different vehicles, the gang started heading west. For some, it was just another trip back to St. Marys, for others, it was their first time travelling to a new home.
Along the way, the kids enjoyed a relaxing nap, while Maha watched the snowy fields and silos fly by.
“You’d never take drives this long in Lebanon or Syria,” she said.
Back in St. Marys, Maha, Marah and Warda immediately got to work in the kitchen, preparing an authentic Mediterranean dinner complete with soup, salads, chicken and potatoes (that Marah and Warda had started the night before) for their new friends. Compas was briefly called over to translate some of the dials on the oven. For Warda, cooking is one of the great pleasures of her life, and it was clearly evident that she was happy to be back in the kitchen of her new home. Growing up in a strict, traditional household, she never learned to read or write in Arabic.
Others arrived and congratulated Warda on having her family arrive safely in Canada.
“There is more, but I am happy!” she said.
Altogether, there are over 10 other family members of Warda’s in Lebanon or Syria in varying degrees of refugee certification. Some, including another one of her sons and a daughter, are in Lebanon and have been in contact with Warda. They have their paperwork with the UN refugee agency and their passage overseas is mostly a matter of time. However, there are others, including two more sons and a daughter, whom they haven’t heard from at all in almost a year.
Safely in their new home, talk soon turned to more mundane matters; work on enrolling the kids in school, filling prescriptions, getting the family into English lessons, and starting up bank accounts has, by now, all gotten well underway.
Those regular types of things, and others, like the assurance that your family is safe and together are, perhaps, a little more rare in this world than many Canadians sometimes realize.