The best Christmas present
The apartment door opened on the laughing faces of two little girls with big black eyes, Shana and Heyleen.
P uis their big brother Hussein arrived on the doorstep. Followed by the other big brother Ayass, and by the father, Blind Alsino.
We went to the living room. A Kurdish flag in the colors red, white and green was proudly displayed over the sofa. There he had Lania, the third sister, as well as the two grandparents, Hussein and Sette.
Did I forget someone?
Oh yes ! Mother Hayat arrived with a tray loaded with tea and chocolate chip cookies. Whenever I interview Syrian refugees, sweets land on the table. I’m not saying that to complain, notice!
The Alsinos live in a two-bedroom apartment in the Daniel-Johnson sector in Gatineau. Yes, you read correctly. All these beautiful people live under the same roof. Father, mother, 5 children aged 4 to 12, and two grandparents in their sixties.
Under the amused eye of the adults, the two youngest were moving at full speed in the living room, making heard a cheerful chirping of French, Kurdish and Arabic words.
What if there was excitement in the air? Hey, sir, I was dazed.
Because they were getting ready to receive a visit from Santa Claus. The Alsino are Muslim. They do not celebrate Christmas. But they know our traditions well. Before the war, they had Christian friends who, like us, exchanged gifts and decorated a tree.
While waiting for Santa Claus, we got to know each other.
The Alsino arrived in Canada in October 2018 from Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Before the civil war, they lived in Hassakié, a city in Syria that has become the scene of fierce fighting. “ISIS fighters looted and then set our farm on fire,” said the grandmother.
The Alsino arrived in Canada with a heart full of hope, but speaking neither French nor English. A year later, the oldest children are still struggling with learning the language. “As soon as we have learned enough French, we will find a job,” promises Blind, who has in turn been a farmer, foreman and trader in Syria.
Adaptation is easier for children. The three oldest are in the same reception class at Notre-Dame school. While Lania is taking piano lessons, the two guys play on the same soccer team. If they like soccer? They dream of it, even in winter! “In Erbil, there were soccer fields, but no team! Told me Hussein in French.
The Alsinos are worried about their families who have remained in Iraq. Blind has two brothers and two sisters trapped in Erbil, a town that has been the target of frequent attacks. He multiplies the steps to bring them to Canada. Unsuccessful so far. “When we left Iraq, the Canadian authorities had promised to send the rest of our family quickly,” said Blind.
Someone knocked on the door. He was not a big bearded man dressed in red. Rather Jacques Laberge from the support committee for Syrian refugees.
For the past three years, it has organized a distribution of gifts to new arrivals. He arrived with his two elves, Majida and Bayan Aljoudi (who served us as interpreters). It was Pierre Deschamps, president of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Outaouais, who carried the big bag of gifts.
The children went to lock themselves in a room to unwrap their presents. I knew the two guys got board games. And Heyleen, a dollhouse almost as big as she is!
On leaving, the grandmother took my hand in hers. She started speaking in Kurdish. Or in Arabic, I don’t know. I understood that she wanted me to talk in my column about her children who remained in Iraq.
The interpreter turned to me. “She says that when the time came to board the plane for Canada, she refused to do so unless all of her children came with her. A Canadian then promised him that the other children would follow in the second plane… ”
The second plane? Sette is still waiting for him. With her warm hands pressed against mine, I understood that the repatriation of her family is the greatest gift she could dream of.