As previously announced, the Khatab family arrived in Calgary last Tuesday, June 21st. Their trip to Canada started on the morning of Monday, June 20th, Jordan time, with some required medical tests. They then had to go home and get their luggage and head to the airport. They were very worried that they were going to miss their flight, and were thankful when they made it in time. It was a two day journey, and likely the first of its kind for them.
They were well looked after at the Calgary airport, and conveyed to their new home by volunteers. After their two day journey and three sleepless nights, they were all very tired. Once at the house the volunteer welcoming committee stayed for a short visit, and showed the Khatabs where their house was on a map of Calgary. The mother, Raghda, responded with "Now we have a house on a map while in Syria they are erasing all the houses".
Raghda has a niece who lives in St. John, New Brunswick, and asked if it is close to here; Samira Assaf had to explain how far away it is. She dialled the niece's phone number when they got to the house so that Raghda could speak to her; Raghda's niece will advise family members in Jordan and Syria that the family has arrived safely in Calgary.
Raghda and Marwa seem to understand a little English. All of them were anxious to see their new home and to get their phones working as soon as possible (the parents and the sons, Mohammad and Mahmoud, already have cell phones).
Raghda's parents and two brothers were killed in the war, and she has one more brother still in Syria whose situation she doesn't know anything about. She says she lost her family in Syria but feels like she found a new family here; that her heart opened up to all of the volunteers, and that she hopes their hearts opened up to her and her family.
Both Raghda and father Khaled repeatedly expressed their gratitude to everyone. They seem quite sociable and eager to please, and are looking forward to learning English, settling and starting working.
Chris Longson, one of the Primary Support volunteers, has given us his impressions of how the family's first few days in Calgary have gone:
The past 4 days have been a huge learning curve for everyone.
They arrived on Tuesday afternoon after 3 sleepless nights. By the next day they were raring to go.
They are hugely appreciative of the house. They know this is the work of many volunteers, and have met some of them. I sense they don't quite know how to fully express their relief and gratitude for being so well looked after.
The family were in a camp in Jordan for three years. One of their first statements on arrival was "We are a working family and we are very keen to start working as soon as possible", followed by "When can we get work?" They know they have to learn English, but work is clearly uppermost in Khaled's mind. Khaled and his son Mohammad ran their own dry cleaning business in Syria for many years and then worked for someone in Jordan in the same business.
They are all very keen to learn English and over the past four days we have seen a noticeable difference, in part I think because their shyness in trying to speak is falling away. As you might expect, they understand more than they can say. Raghda is also determined to teach us Arabic.
The boys have worked since leaving school after Grade 6, Mohammad with his father and Mahmoud in a sandwich shop. The girls have gone on to high school and continued to study in Jordan, so Marwa was in Grade 12 and Maram was in grade 9. Although they are a Muslim family they have opted out of fasting for Ramadan (June 6 through July 5th) because of the long daylight hours here, and, I'm guessing, also due to the huge break in their routine .
They told us they lived in a mixed community with many Christians and there were several churches and a mosque in their neighbourhood. They were very surprised that the churches here don't have bells. They had one right next door in Syria and they were awakened early every morning by the sound of its bells.
On Thursday our lead ESL volunteer came around with English teaching books to introduce the idea of language lessons. Marwa is very keen on literature and I have seen her delving into these books frequently.
"Google Translate" has been working overtime! What a godsend. However, that's not to diminish in any way the great support that Samira and her husband Dave have been over the past few days. Dave has driven all the way from their home in the NE several times for long chats and laughs with everyone.
An expedition to the local bowling alley was organized for us on Thursday evening. Khaled and Raghda came along but announced they didn't want to play ... but when we all got started, that was forgotten and we had a great time. Champion of the evening was Maram, much to the chagrin of her brother Mahmoud.
Mahmoud is the athletic one in the family. He is like a coiled spring and is finding it very hard to cope with all the sitting around waiting for things to happen. He would LOVE a bicycle. In fact all the youngsters are keen on the idea. Summer youth programs are a must ...
On Friday we visited the Harry Hayes building to get SIN numbers set up, and with some last minute driving help we got the whole family downtown and processed quite quickly. The folks in Service Canada were really helpful. We followed this up with a walk along the Bow River to Princes Island. They absolutely loved the river and were fascinated by all the wildlife (ducks mostly).
Saturday was Khaled's birthday. We took them for a walk on Nose Hill, watching the marauding rainstorms around us. One finally nailed us as we were returning from the summit overlooking the city, so we all arrived back to the house in a soggy state. A birthday cake for Khaled awaited, made by Hapi Standing. It was served with sweet tea, ice cream and we Canadians all sang Happy Birthday, in English of course. After this they announced that they were very keen to come to St. Laurence today (Sunday June 26th) and meet some of the people who are sponsoring them. They want to visit all four churches soon, and will be invited to the Stampede Breakfast and service at Good Shepherd on July 10th.
The Refugee Resettlement Project:
A Joint Ministry of Good Shepherd, Knox,
St. Laurence and St. Martin's