My Rubber Boots

Layla Bseliss


“Please welcome our new Syrian family,” the priest said at the end of the mass. We wondered if we were good enough to be sponsored by this community. Were we dressed well enough? Then he asked us to stand up so everyone could see us. I froze. I was ashamed of my rubber boots, which I had bought quickly before I left Aleppo, thinking they would be appropriate for Canada’s climate.

We made our last visit to our home to collect our belongings on Friday, October 16, 2015. It was crazy—each of us trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind—a whole life packed into one 20-kilogram bag. A life full of gatherings with family and friends, in a home governed by love and faith. We had to hurry because the driver was coming soon. Our trip would begin in the middle of the night because darkness is better for travel during a war. When the driver put our bags in the trunk, he asked why they were so heavy. Of course, we couldn’t tell the truth. We couldn’t say, “We are leaving our homeland after surviving five years of a very dirty war.” Instead, I told the driver that we were going to Lebanon for a vacation. 

Although the weather was nice and the sky was clear, we didn’t enjoy it because there were many checkpoints on the road, and we were all frightened. But I had to hide my fear. As the mother of three kids, I had to keep being the strong one. During the time since the beginning of the war in 2011, our older daughter started her career as a French teacher. Her younger sister finished high school, and our son struggled to finish training to be a dentist. They all worked hard to succeed under very difficult circumstances, and I continued my job teaching English literature. 

Sitting next to the driver, my husband remained silent. He was suffering from deep depression caused by fear of bombs, rockets, and bullets, but he did not want to leave Aleppo. He finally agreed after our son said, “If my sisters or I die, it will be because you refused to leave.” 

After hours of travel, a soldier waved us over at a checkpoint. He said the road was not safe, so we stopped at a small café. It was full of travellers who were waiting for the road to be open again. Many thoughts came to my mind. Will we have to go back to Aleppo, and live without power and water? Am I going to keep living in fear of losing my daughters to ISIS? Or having my son arrested because he had loudly expressed his opinions? Please no, God—we are so close to being safe.

We stayed in the café for three hours. We could hear the sound of bombs and shooting. Finally, another soldier came to say the road was clear, although it was littered with bullets. Feeling lucky to escape, we got back in the car, but then the driver said there was a sniper in the area. We all tried to hide, crouching down in our seats. Those five minutes felt like a year. But four hours later, we reached the Lebanese border. We had made it. 

Back in the church, the congregation was clapping, waking me up from my memories. Their welcome warmed our hearts. My rubber boots, which I had tried to hide with my pants, helped me take my first steps toward a new life in Canada. Here stands the strong mom.

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