Yesterday was Canada Day. For most of the day, I found my mind wandering and wondering. What are the thousands of Syrian newcomers in Canada doing to celebrate across the country? It is still Ramadan, so many are fasting and praying often through the day.
I’ve had the enormous pleasure of getting to know two Syrian families since the new year. One family arrived in January and the other followed in February. Our church, St. Aidan’s Anglican, has sponsored both families through the Diocese of Huron. It was a team effort with people in charge of securing an apartment (my husband) and then a team of people donating, delivering, picking up and installing furniture and other items to make a home. My responsibility was the children’s education. Others were in charge of adult education, transportation, budget, forms, medical, dental, clothing, social etc.
At some point in the last little while though, I feel like we have made a shift from being in a supportive role, to just being friends or even family. Our kids love to play together. My kids remarked that the children have learned to speak English “in the blink of an eye”. We’ve had a BBQ picnic in the park together. One family attended the celebration of our baby’s baptism. We have tea together regularly. We’ve been treated to some Syrian dishes that are truly amazing. This week, we picked grape leaves together.
I will even say that perhaps we have shared in their grief a little bit too. While these families are so grateful to be in Canada, there is also grief for what has been lost and left behind. Aleppo, for example, was a beautiful ancient city and much of it has been destroyed. These newcomers (they are not refugees anymore) worry about family members still in danger. Recently, we witnessed the sadness when one of the families learned that a family member had died in Syria, having been killed by a sniper.
It all makes you a bit more aware of our “first world” problems. Perhaps more in tune with the safety and small things that we take for granted.
I asked my friends to share a few of their thoughts on Canada Day. And with their permission, I would like to share them with you:
- We are grateful for the good people that we have met.
- We are impressed with the diversity and different religions in Canada and how we embrace all through the freedom of religion, customs and traditions.
- We want to be advocates for peace and coexistence between religions and we want to be active members of the community.
- We are grateful to live in a safe place where we can raise our children.
This was deeper than the answers I thought that I might get.
Yesterday, I was entertained by the videos being passed around about our weather, Tim Hortons, and all those stereotypical things that “make us Canadian” on social media. But it all felt a bit light to me. Then again, I think our self-deprecating humour is part of what makes us Canadian. But what we really should be celebrating is what my friends have highlighted above.
This week Barack Obama said that “The world could use a little more Canada”. Wow. Imagine that for a moment. What would that look like?
I’m feeling more proud to be Canadian because of my experience with Syrian newcomers this year. I know that I am a better person for knowing them.
Having completed some English training, my friends from Syria are now making first steps into the working world. Some are continuing to study and work at the same time.
As I look forward, I see our country being richer for having these thousands of Syrian newcomers here. Not only economically. I know my life is richer for having these friendships. They are a part of our Canadian story now. And while we are having an influence on them, they undoubtedly are also having an influence on our collective Candian identity too.