In 2001, my husband and I back-backed around Syria, and on more than one occasion, when we were walking through little towns, the kids would run along beside us and yell “Welcome to Syria!”. It was the only thing they knew how to say in English. I remember thinking at the time, that if they came to Canada they might not have as warm a welcome (yes, even back then, pre-9-11).
Syria made a strong impression on us as one of the friendliest places we visited and my time there did a lot to make me look at my own unconscious prejudices. Surprise, surprise, people from Syria were not that different than people from Canada, they were just trying to make a living and raise their families.
I often wonder what happened to some of the people we met when we were there and how the war affected them. There was a “Falafal Man” in Damasacus who we visited every day for lunch time falafals and a man in Palmyra (I think) who invited us to his house for supper. When we got there we found out that neither he, nor his wife really spoke any English. It was an awkward but memorable night with us trying to use our phrase book to have a conversation.
So it was lovely to see the huge “Welcome to Canada” banner on the front page of the Toronto Star today and see our country being so ready to welcome Syrians to our country. I have several friends who are part of groups working to privately sponsor families and I am so glad that we elected a government who does not see a boogey man in every closet but sees people in crisis who need a chance for a new life in a peaceful country.
So “Welcome to Canada!” new Syrians! I hope you are able to find peace, heal your wounds and prosper in our country and I’m thrilled that my thoughts on how Syrians would be received if they came to my country from all those years ago have today been proven wrong.