Guest column: Amid the rising scourge of xenophobia, a local success story

 

May Drost

May Drost

I am putting a new zipper into a favourite pair of track pants. I notice that someone has fixed the old zipper at one time, and the stitching is hard to rip out.

The pants belong to my friend, Mohamad. I imagine that his mother must have been the one to apply the stitches I am trying so hard to rip out. I feel a kinship with this woman whom I have never met: I have fixed countless zippers for my children too.

So now Mohamad, his wife, and their family live in Sarnia: three girls and one small boy, who raises his arms to me when I walk in the front door of their newly purchased home.

They have had help with this new home: a crew of volunteers who helped clean, paint and renovate. Most of these helpers have morphed into friends who now come to the house to celebrate birthdays, the Muslim festival of Eid, or simply to share a cup of Arabic coffee.

Mohamad has a full-time job, and supplements his limited income with other jobs, such as lawn cutting. The family also does catering: they provided a wonderful Syrian meal for my family’s Thanksgiving celebration.

They have been in Canada for almost three years. They fled from Damascus, where they endured horrible trauma (their home reduced to a pile of rubble; all of their possessions lost) to a camp in Lebanon.

After three years there, they came to Canada. They knew no English and had little awareness of Canadian culture. The children were frightened of sirens and police.

Now, it is hard to think of them as “refugees.” They have learned a good deal of English and are still taking language lessons. They know how to carry out daily transactions, such as banking or dealing with the furnace repairman.

They talk with their neighbours — next door and over the back fence. The children play with the neighbourhood kids. They have embraced Halloween and Christmas. The children play soccer and hockey. Mohamad has been a soccer coach the past two summers. They are looking forward to becoming Canadian citizens.

In short, “they” have become “us”.

I am sad for that grandmother an ocean away, who may never have another chance to fix another zipper for her “Canadian” children, or indeed, may never see them again.

May she know that they have been embraced by others in this small Canadian town that she no doubt has never heard of.

Xenophobia has become a scourge in our world. I am glad to live in a city where there is much goodwill toward those who are from other parts of the world.

May Drost is a retired teacher happy to be living in Sarnia.