|Saba, Tarek, Zed, Rina and baby Reem in their Amherst, NS, home.|
Deep inside the annual frenzy to buy and shop and give-and-get, deep inside the music blaring at every store, there is a story. In that story is the reason for this season we call “Christmas”. And it’s a universal story, one more of us can relate to than we realize.
Because it is the story of family, of a long journey into unfamiliar territory, and of the life-changing birth of a baby.
Last February, Tarek and his wife Rina arrived at the Halifax airport with their daughter, now five, and their son, now three. They came from Syria via Jordan, where they had been living for four years after fleeing the civil war in their homeland. Rina’s mother and sisters are still in Syria; her father and brother are dead while a second brother is missing. Tarek’s family is now scattered throughout the Middle East trying to rebuild their lives.
In Jordan, Tarek and Rina were refugees and not supported the way Canadians have welcomed and helped them. They received only coupons for food. Tarek, a mechanic, could not work in Jordan; if he was caught trying to earn money for his family, he would be thrown in jail or sent back to Syria. Their daughter, Saba, was born in Syria, while their son, Zed, was born in Jordan; that country refused to issue a birth certificate for him because his parents were refugees.
A family without a home, a baby without a country.
Sitting in their living room in Amherst, using a translator, Tarek described arriving in Canada this way: “I felt human again.”
The story buried deep inside our cultural Christmas of Black Friday sales and mall Santas and elves on shelves is a story about home, about belonging, about being a citizen.
Tarek and his family first settled in Parrsboro, a community that embraced and assisted them. Soon after they arrived, however, Rina became pregnant and it was difficult from the start; the doctors thought she might give birth two months prematurely so they moved closer to the hospital.
Through the translator, Rina said the health care she receives here is much better than in Syria or Jordan. Her biggest struggle, and also for her husband, is language. Imagine you are pregnant and only speak Arabic while your doctor and nurse only speak English.
“Most of the time I understand but I can’t say it back,” Rina explained. “I want to learn more English so I can understand what’s going on with my baby.”
Fortunately, the baby held on for the full term and was delivered by C-section a month ago.
“Our little Canadian girl,” Tarek called her. The implication is huge: this newborn daughter, named Reem, is a Canadian citizen. She is a citizen of the country in which she was born, in which she will grow up in safety and prosperity. She is home.
A baby is born and it is a time of joy. Looking at her tiny features, her little fingers and cheeks, we are filled with hope and we pray for peace so that she grows up safe and healthy. There is such love for a sweet little Canadian baby with thick dark hair, whose first words will be both Arabic and English.
This is the true meaning of Christmas, this story of hospitality and home, of welcome and acceptance, of being human.