My Hooded Homeland Jacket
On the icy Montreal night in 2016, when Aya Mhana’s family arrives from Syria, she is given a red winter coat. Wrapped in the warmth of that new coat, she sets about making a new life for herself and her daughter in Calgary as a musician of Syrian folk songs and her own composition.
“Wherever we have lived, our heart belongs; no matter who we have lost, we still have a heart.”
My friend translated my Arabic song lyrics to these words. What I mean is that although we have lost so much, we still have the ability to love again. Because of that, I’m trying to focus on what I have and stop looking back for what I have lost.
One thing I have, regardless of the things that I left in Syria, is a big red coat with a big red hood. It was given to me by the Canadian government at the airport when my husband, now my ex-husband, and I arrived in Montreal in 2016. It was a warm welcome to this freezing place. I’m not usually a fan of red clothes, but Canadian red was the only colour offered. The long jacket embraced me in warmth, just the way my mom did before l left. We arrived in Canada at night, and all the darkness was lit up by all the white snow. I pulled the hood up and went outside to explore the place, which would be my second homeland. Syria couldn’t hold its own citizens because it is the land of conflicts of other countries. Canada could hold us.
I had left Syria days earlier, not years, but I already had extreme nostalgia. Syria had the first alphabet in the world. The first written music was found there. Damascus is the oldest inhabited capital in the world. Syria is so much more than the last nine years of war and conflict. I pulled my red hood tightly, trying to preserve my Syrian memories in my mind forever.
My memories are about the people I left behind who are dead today. About places that have been rebuilt, so I will never be able to touch the same walls I played beside when I was a kid. About trees that were cut down and burned to make fire for the long cold nights in my town when there were no other sources of heat. About friends who once gathered for fun, for singing, and dreaming, and who today are living in the diaspora of war. I’m talking about a country that will never fully recover from the damage of this war.
I do not live in the bubble of my previous life. I am creating a Canadian past to share one day with my grandchildren. My young daughter and I live in a humble, small place, but we are surrounded with loving neighbours who visit each other and exchange food and gifts.
Before I became a Canadian citizen, when I was a refugee, I was not able to go back to Syria, my homeland. Now that I am a Canadian, with a new homeland, I can go back to Syria if the war stops. But I can’t decide based only on myself. I have to decide for my daughter, who deserves to know the meaning of peace, thriving, development and safety. One day when Syria is a liveable place, she can choose.
In my music, I speak up for immigrants who choose to integrate after being amputated from their countries. I say “amputated” because some pieces of their souls are removed to open a space for this new place. I speak up for moms and children, and I try to represent all the human rights that we have here in Canada and for which people all over the world are dying.
I speak up for myself and my choices in life, and I know that I am already successful enough here to buy my own hooded jacket.
AYA MHANA’s work as an influencer and commitment throughout her music career is paying off. She won an award for her musical talent and is now a resident artist at her local public library in Calgary. She was nominated for the 2020 YYC Music Awards. Although music is still her first love, she works as a digital marketer and has recently started her own company. She is always eager to learn and overcomes any challenge to achieve her goals.