A warm welcome to our newest residents

Ahlan Sa Wahlan (1)

As I was getting Egg changed into his pyjamas the other night, I looked at the sky and thought about the plane carrying 163 newcomers into my city. I’ve been thinking about them ever since. I didn’t waste much time reflecting on what it would take my family to pack up and leave everything behind for a strange new place…the question is so far-fetched as to be ludicrous. It’s the families up in that plane that have been on my mind, and the journeys they’ve been through.

Egg’s bedtime routine is as predictable and regimented as a military parade. The strip-down, bath, dry-off, rub-up, story time, pyjama putting-on, singing and goodnights occur in lockstep, and any deviation from the routine will result in concerned, loaded glances between Mama and I about the trouble we might be in for. As I zipped up those little pyjamas I thought about how hard it must be to set a consistent bedtime when your tent on the Turkish border is bathed all night in the cold glow of military floodlights. And what are the baby baths like in a refugee camp?

What are the baby baths like in a refugee camp?

A little later on that evening we spent some time going over online reviews of car seats (almost time to get the next size up!) As we read about machine-washable covers and harness configurations and integrated cup holders, I wondered what kind of side-impact protection is built into those rickety makeshift rafts that tens of thousands of Syrians have been “sailing” out into the Mediterranean. Do those things come with energy-resistant foam seats? Are the cup holders integrated?

Yesterday our fussy kid violently rejected his chopped-up pasta lunch – leftovers from a meal he loved two days earlier, and would probably love again in another day or two. As we heated up some green peas to give him as his back-up option, I thought of what an absurd luxury it is to just go and grab back-up food, and give these perfectly good and nutritious pasta leftovers to the dog. What, I wondered, do the picky, fickle babies in the refugee camps eat?

Christmas is coming and we’ve started to plan the 600km trip up the 401 to visit my family in Quebec. It’s going to be tough. The logistics of keeping an 11-month old happy for six or seven hours in a car are daunting; there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that the drive is going to majorly suck. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to plan for the trip to make it as painless as possible, but there’s no way of actually making it painless. Now: this is a leisure trip, for fun, for the holidays. If the weather is inclement we might just call the damn thing off. But if I take the worry and planning that has gone into this trip and multiply that by what these other young families have gone through, my head spins. Take every valuable item you have – there’s no going back. Get on a shitty raft on the Mediterranean or take your chances with deadly patrols on the borders; travel thousands of kilometers this way. Stay for an indeterminate time in a cramped refugee camp. Deal with lawyers and immigration officials for months or years with uncertain chances of success… The determination these people needed to make this journey is literally beyond my comprehension.

And now some of them are here. Just the first few, with thousands more to come. Man, it makes me happy. That’s why I’ve kept thinking about them non-stop.

The elation I feel at their arrival has been the perfect antidote for the negativity and nastiness I’ve been sensing everywhere these past few weeks. For a while it felt like everywhere I looked there were people suggesting that the freedoms of some are more important than the freedoms of others. The news and internet seemed full of people squeamishly fretting that these newcomers will cost us money or jobs or security. God, they depressed me. To all of them I say: take a hard look at what these people – these regular people with lives and loves and families – take a look at what they have been through, and then take a hard look at yourself in the mirror.

The elation I feel at their arrival has been the perfect antidote for the negativity and nastiness I’ve been sensing everywhere these past few weeks.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I had no idea how I would explain any of this stuff to my kid if I had to, and that’s still mostly true. But the past few days have at least given me clarity on some values that I want to pass on to him as soon as possible: That our freedom isn’t real at all unless there’s equal freedom for everyone. And that we’re not deserving really deserving of our security if we can’t muster up some courage when people need us. I think a small child would understand this.

Now it’s been a few days, and I smile wondering how our newest residents are settling in. The weather has been mighty fine for mid-December, but that probably doesn’t count for much when you’re fresh off a plane from Lebanon. Surely there will be struggles ahead and it won’t all be easy, but there will be no more rafts or floodlights. They’re here. They’ve reached the land of multiple food options and warm baths for the baby every night before bed. And integrated cup holders! Asalam ‘alaykum, ahlan wa sahlan.

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