Helping Part 2

There’s a thing called a prompt in the Blogging course I’m taking.  This prompt created a jumping-off point for the next piece about the Syrian Kurd refugee we’re trying to help.

He is a young single man, brother to the wife mentioned in the previous post.  He left Syria by foot in 2013, because he had completed a two-year degree and was no longer exempt from military conscription.  He is Kurdish, and as such is in a double bind:  if he returns to Syria and the government forces stop him, he can be forced to fight for Assad against his own Kurdish people and against other rebel groups.  If he returns to Syria and goes to a Kurdish area, either of the Kurdish groups fighting against Assad and the other rebels could force him to fight.

He has a degree which he took in English and speaks English well.  In his current situation in Turkey he cannot legally work and he cannot travel freely because of the many refugees travelling through Turkey to the EU.

Until three days ago he worked in a lamp shop for half wages, acting as an interpreter for customers.  His shop was 1 km away from the suicide bomb blast that killed 10 people in Istanbul.  With no customers, his job is gone.

We are waiting, as is he and his family here in Canada, for paperwork to come through from the Syrian embassy in Istanbul that will allow us to complete the sponsorship application and have it submitted to the Canadian and Turkish governments.  While he is waiting, there is violence all around him.  Syrian refugees are being blamed for the latest blast and the police have rounded up suspects.  There is nothing that we, or he, can do to speed up the process.

The prompt for this post was about belief.   Belief is:

An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof:  Oxford English Dictionary

In an e-mail just yesterday, this young man said he still believes and is still strong in his hope that everything will be okay and that he will be allowed to come to Canada.   I call that belief, and strong belief.  We just hope his belief will be proven true.

Reason to Believe



Helping Part 1

When the pictures of the young boy whose drowned body washed up on a Turkish beach suddenly raised international awareness of the Syrian refugee crisis, it sparked our empathy as well.  My wife Hengameh (May) and her family were from Iran, so she knew first hand how difficult life was in some countries.  She attended the vigil at the Alberta Legislature on September 8, 2015 and subsequently we both attended an information session held at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.

We were not part of a group, and therefore could not afford to sponsor a family, but the Mennonite Central Committee put us in touch with a Syrian Kurdish family (wife, husband and young son) already here who were trying to help the wife’s brother come to Canada.  They had immigrated as government sponsored refugees through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees earlier in the year.

Their story is similar to many of the refugees.  Before the civil war began in 2011 they lived a good life, had jobs and were paying for a home.  Aleppo, where they lived, was a sophisticated, modern city with a long history and many amenities.  In 2012 that all changed.  The civil war came to Aleppo.  The building beside their home was shelled and collapsed.  Their own home was damaged.  Rebel groups started to move into the city and loot for supplies.  The couple had just had a son, and he was two months old when they decided to flee.  Luckily for them, the husband had family in Turkey, so they were able to legally cross the Turkish border and stay with them while they applied for refugee status.

They came to Canada in the spring of 2015 and found an apartment on the south side of Edmonton.  They did not speak English, had little money, and were distant from the Kurdish community here.  When we met them in October of 2015 the husband was taking English classes every day, while the wife stayed home with their young son.  May arranged appointments at the EMCN for both of them, one with an Arab-speaking interpreter who helped the wife fill out the immigration application form for her brother, one with an EMCN worker who helped the husband fill out his resume in English.  Through our contacts with a grocery that supplied Iranian food, May was able to help the husband get a job in a new restaurant just opening.  Now he goes to English classes in the mornings and works, and the wife is starting English classes as well.

It really does take a coordinated effort, and we have been helped by many people, including a good friend at the EMCN and a Kurdish community broker who met with us and the family to interpret.  We had the Kurdish family to our home for Christmas, and other good friends of ours went with their family to purchase gifts for the newcomers.  It was a joyful time watching the young boy play with toys all night long.

Currently the brother who we are trying to help is a refugee himself, a Syrian Kurd living in Turkey, with violence and poverty around him.  More on him and his story in upcoming posts.



Layered Memories

There is a very cool photo on the Dutch goes the Photo! blog taken in an abandoned barn.

It brought to mind the abandoned buildings on our family farm.  All the childhood memories layered in the dust and the cobwebs, and the way our imaginations project those memories on the screen of our minds.

Below is a picture of my oldest daughter (snapped by my younger daughter) walking out into the field at the farm.  The building on the right was a pig barn when we built it in the 70s.  It is now a shed.  I can remember making the concrete for the floor and  gutters, a cement mixer churning slowly, me shoveling in the sand, gravel and cement mix, spraying water with a leaky hose that drenched everything within range, including brothers, father and dog.

Faun into the horizon

The old wood building to the left was a granary, and one spring a swarm of bees attached itself to the wall and decided to call it home.  I can remember how terrified I was of those bees, and fearing that they would swarm me if I came too close.

And in the middle of memory, there’s my daughter, walking through those projected pasts into a world of her own making.

Eating Creatures

Of course, when you are young, you feel things instead of think things. The first poem was how it felt sometimes growing up on the farm, that life was beautiful, but the pain that we caused to the animals we raised was not.  It was written many years ago.

When older, I accepted that most living things eat other living things for nourishment. If you keep animal protein in your diet, the question then becomes one of how we treat the animals who are raised for our nourishment.  The question is about empathy.

The second poem puts that question in a different way.


The Bumpkin Boy

A bumpkin boy, from province bound
From amongst the fair pig sties
Where oft he’d play with cat or hound
Beneath the sovereign skies

A boy who loved to feel the breeze
And listen to its tales
While lying still beneath the trees
Or walking lonely trails

In forests deep an owl’s grey eyes
Would startle wide and stare
But notice not the boy near by
A silent shadow there

In greening fields a cow would raise
Her eyes and see the child
Upon a hill with arms upraised
In genuflection mild

To laughter would the raindrops fall
The weather was as kin
In winter’s snow he’d prance and call
His dog to sport with him

The pain he caused would sorrow him
While forking or with feed
And tears at times his eyes would dim
He’d sing while still he grieved

The animals he killed to live
He’d treat with gentle mien
And beg them to his ways forgive
By their deaths made obscene

“Such horrors here” he’d say “but still
What right have I to quest
These things that make my conscience chill
Are by my fathers blessed”

And back to work he’d turn, intent
On piece of mind; his goal
With every breath he took he meant
To cauterize his soul

A shadow now slept o’er his face
And oftentimes was seen
Still as a tree in thoughtful grace
His eyes bespoke a dream

One day his dream was answered, and
He died while still a boy
His quiet smile and steady hand
His last breath spoke of joy


If sparks of transcendence
in humanity glow
For we need to be more than
the toying cat more
than the fruit-munching ape more
than the grazing beast

Then one bright spark must surely be
with every creature born
a kindred trust
and empathy