The strange joy of welcoming refugees

Today I downloaded iTranslate, located the Arabic option, bought three for $20 bouquets at FoodLand, and my husband and I headed to the new home of the Syrian family who arrived in our town on Saturday.

The young mother of this family of five was like an entirely different person. On Saturday she appeared overwhelmed, and of course she must have been. Today, she smiled and laughed and let me hold her baby. We made small talk (very small talk) and drank apple juice on their couch while their daughter drew pictures of Brenda, the volunteer from our welcome and settlement team, who sat nearby.

As we stood at the arrival gates at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Saturday, Fatima, one of the Syrian-born translators helping our team, reminded us that the family — and all those like them — leave everything to come to nothing.

And that got me thinking that what was shaping up to be one of the best days of my life, might actually be one of their worse. If I cried for joy, they would cry for sadness. Isn’t that strange? How selfish in a strange way some types of joy can be without even meaning to be?

Because what I felt as we walked through the airport back to our van for the drive to Port Perry was a pure, down to my toes and back up again, kind of joy. It was not the temporary happiness of a great meal, or a new iPad, or a piece of art, or even a great family evening that can turn bad quickly. For Family Day, for example, my daughter Holly had suggested we go to the zoo, have a big fight and come home. That’s how quickly situational happiness can swirl down the toilet.

But helping to create a new life for a Syrian family? That is some kind of deep joy.

As we drove into Port Perry we knew there might be a few people out holding signs of welcome. To our teary-eyed delight on that -30 degree day, there were many people out holding signs of welcome. The police were there with “swag” for the weary kids in the van. How cool is that? And the Muslim owner of the gas station on whose property the group had been milling around waiting for us was there too, holding up his own bristol board sign and giving out free coffee. And I couldn’t help but wonder if he and his family felt more welcome in our little town too, by association. I think so. I hope so.

It was a celebration. It was a freezing cold outdoor Canadian party.

Today, we didn’t stay long because we know how long we’d like complete strangers who don’t speak our language sitting around our living room drinking our apple juice. But my husband did manage to type out this message using our new translate toy/tool: ربما في أسبوع واحد أو أسبوعين يمكنك أن تأتي إلى منزلنا لتناول الطعام. And that means “Maybe in one week or two you can come to our House to eat.”

And honestly, I can’t wait.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to receive updates on my writing