Before the war, I remember lying on the grass beside my father, looking at the stars. But on that night, when those stars in the sky became exploding shells bombing Aleppo, my father made the irreversible decision to flee.
We chose Egypt and thought it would take only a few months to get back to Syria, but we were actually there for about four years. The first year and a half were full of struggles, anxiety, and a lot of moments where I felt my family had nearly reached their limits. But on the positive side, we had great social support from our friends there, whom we now consider family. In November 2013, we were even able to bring my grandmother from Turkey to live with us in Egypt.
Before 2015 came to an end, my dad received a phone call from the UN, offering my grandmother resettlement to Canada so she could have access to better health care. My dad refused to send her alone and asked if we could join her. My parents and I were approved. Unfortunately, the rest of my siblings were unable join us because they had their own families, and each of them has to make a separate application. But for us, the whole process was surprisingly fast! It took only three months! On February 15, 2016, I was in the airport with my parents and grandmother saying goodbye to my siblings and their children. This scene is imprinted on my heart.
We arrived at the Toronto airport, and before we left for the hotel, everybody was given winter jackets and snow boots. I looked at the boots and thought: Oh! These look so big and heavy I wonder how I will be able to lift my feet if I wear them? In fact, I didn’t know then that the weight of my new responsibilities would be far heavier than the boots.
I started my life in Canada exactly as if I had just been born. I had to learn how to speak, and I went to school like a small child starting grade one. Moreover, I had to be my family’s eyes to see and get to know the community. I had to be their voice to speak English and get all the paper work done. Sometimes I had to leave school to translate for my family at their medical or government appointments.
And I haven’t talked about my personal needs as a lonely 16-year-old girl. Making friends was never easy for me and even harder in this strange new world. Wasn’t I meant to be at the beautiful age where you could be creating memories to review in your old age? Maybe I couldn’t do much about my social life, but my grades were high, which made my parents happy.
To be honest, I don’t blame anyone because this is Allah’s will. But I would blame myself if I hadn’t learned and grown from these experiences. I truly believe everything happens for a reason. No one knows the plan behind events, but when I surrender all my weaknesses, strength and ignorance to Allah, I believe he will protect me as he protected Yunus (Jonah) inside the dark belly of the whale. I have no doubt he has a beautiful reward in mind for me.
But in the meantime, there is still the sorrow of missing the family we left behind. When we were in the hotel in Toronto, I wrote a poem about this. The words are still true for me today: “I swear in the name of God of this universe who created the earth and raised the sky, this life has no colour and no taste if you are miles away from your beloved ones.”