Syrian refugees say thank you with coffee and doughnuts
Published Friday, September 16, 2016 4:05PM EDT Last Updated Friday, September 16, 2016 6:28PM EDT
It’s been nearly one year since Tareq Haj Ibrahim first settled in Waterloo Region.
After a lengthy period of time living in Jordan as a refugee, the Syrian man arrived in Canada on Sept. 20, 2015.
He already knew a little bit of English, which helped, but he was still worried about adapting to his new country.
Hanging over his head was the biggest question of all – the people. He didn’t know what his new neighbours would think of somebody from halfway around the world, with different customs and little understanding of the Canadian way of life.
The transition hadn’t been very smooth in Jordan, even though that country shares a border with Syria.
But it didn’t take long for him to realize that things would be different in Canada.
“When I saw the people, when I mixed with them and I found the love, it helped us a lot to overcome all the challenges,” he said Friday.
“When I came here and introduced myself as a refugee, people (said) ‘You are not a refugee. You were a refugee before your plane landed here. You are a new Canadian right now.’”
Most refugees, especially those who were government-sponsored, haven’t been here for quite as long as Haj Ibrahim.
While many of them have moved into permanent homes, enrolled their kids in schools and found work for themselves, some say jobs and housing are still challenges.
Overall, though, they’re happy to be in Canada, where they don’t have to fear for the lives of themselves and their family members.
Like Haj Ibrahim, they’re also grateful to the Canadians who have tried to make them feel welcome – in some cases, even attempting to greet them in Arabic.
On Friday, they decided to return that kindness by setting up an event at Kitchener City Hall.
There was dancing and drumming, and other signs of Syrian culture.
There was also free coffee, which was donated by Tim Hortons, and free doughnuts, which the refugees pooled their money to purchase, as well as homemade baked goods.
“The basic idea was to say ‘thank you’ to Canada from all Syrian people,” said Anas Aljbian, who arrived in Canada eight months ago with his wife and two children. “We feel like it’s our home.”
One woman decided to take the idea of giving back to the community as literally as possible – approaching pedestrians and drivers with a box of doughnuts in hand.
“Do you want to have donuts?” she asked one motorist. “It’s free. It’s a thank you from the refugees.”
The refugees’ few months in Canada have been enough to show them that Tim Hortons is, as Haj Ibrahim puts it, “one of the popular Canadian restaurants.”
But has it been enough for them to pick up the tradition for themselves?
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It’s become a daily routine.”
With reporting by Nadia Matos