Friendship Conquers Hardship
“Dad, try not to kill our goldfish.” That was what I said to my father on August 6, 2012, as I handed him a small aquarium. I added, “This vacation to Lebanon is just for two weeks. I don’t know why you don’t want to come with us.” I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and left.
A few days before, after my daughter’s school and my office were both attacked, we had decided to get away from the unrest in Aleppo. That night was the first time we heard bombers overhead. My husband and I stayed up worrying while the kids slept, wondering if it was still safe to go to the airport the next morning. The driver came at 4:00 a.m. and said, “Let’s go. The roads are not too bad.”
It was a very heavy moment when we closed our apartment door. I knew that this was not a vacation. Five minutes away from our house, we got stopped by the Islamic militia. The soldier checked our IDs and then yelled: “You are Christians!” Our driver shouted back at him: “God is with you heroes!” The soldier let us pass. We had been invited by a Catholic organization to stay at a conference centre in the Lebanese mountains. We ended up staying there for five months. We wanted to go back to Syria, but the rebels had entered Eastern Aleppo and attacks were happening every night.
My main concern was my dad who was eight-two and dependent on me. Our other concern was financial as we could not access our bank accounts. We had money, but we were poor. When it became clear we couldn’t go home, we arranged to have our car and some belongings brought to Lebanon. The car was stolen right after it left Aleppo. We felt violated and sad, but our two children were an incredible support to us, and our little family grew closer.
This situation also gave me the gift of a new friendship. It all started with a very formal call from my son’s schoolteacher about his losing a book. Soon she and I became best friends, finding great comfort in sharing our life stories. On my birthday, my new friend gave me a pair of a black leather Converse shoes, the expensive special edition of that year—a luxury she knew I would never allow myself. She emphasized that I was precious and that I deserved to enjoy life. That gesture of kindness gave me faith that life would get better.
Eleven months later, we were on our way to Canada. We had left Syria without saying goodbye, but we did say goodbye to our new friends in Lebanon. We cried together for Aleppo, we cried for our old friends who had gone in different directions in search of a new life, and we cried for the family we had been forced to leave behind. We cried for the Middle East and for all the refugees struggling in this cruel world.
We arrived in Alberta on January 1, 2016. We were welcomed by five people from the parish of St. Anthony in Lloydminster, where we would spend the next four years, along with another Syrian family we knew very well. What an unforgettable, emotional moment to share with both old and new friends. Friendship kept us sane during everything we had been through, making us feel loved and respected. It didn’t matter that we were refugees. We were human beings building bridges to a new future. And now, in Canada, we would have the privilege of dreaming again.
Rana Nakhal is from the city of Aleppo, Syria. She began her journey to Canada with her family at the end of 2015 after a four-year stay in Lebanon. Before settling in Edmonton, she lived in Lloydminster, a city that straddles the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta. Rana works for Prospect Human Services as a career advisor. She is also a board member at the Centre for Family Literacy. She’s passionate about her work and keen to try new things and listen to other people’s stories.