Sunday, January 8

Bushra Mdewaye: The Syrian Refugee Momterview

Syrian refugees: you can't get a media (or social media) fix without hearing about them, but to most of us, the term is general and vague, not accurately representing the masses of individuals that it encompasses.

Today's Momterview may not be with a celebrity, but Bushra Mdewaye's voice is just as important, and I am thrilled to give you the chance to get to know her. 

What was your life like in Syria before the war?

I had work, as a teacher. My husband Salim and I were married in 2009, and he was a production manager of a big company. We had our son Bassal in August of 2010. We had our own home and we were really happy. We lived close to my husband’s parents, we would visit with family there often. 

How did things change when the war started?

The jobs disappeared. My school, where I taught was bombed, so I stayed home. The factory where my husband worked was taken over by terrorists. So, he also stayed home with me. We had a two-year-old child at home, but no money or jobs. No money to buy milk or food for our child. Once we spent our money, then there was nothing and nothing to do. There were no jobs and no life there.

Did you feel you were in danger?

Yes. There were always bombs. So we decided to leave Aleppo and go to Jordan. My sister is married to a Jordanian person, so we decided to go there.

How did you end up in Canada? What were the steps?

In Jordan, it was a difficult life. Everything there is very expensive, and it was illegal for us to work. However, my husband worked as a salesman, under the table for a very low salary. The money he made was not enough to cover rent or the cost of living. While in Jordan, Celina was born in 2015.

We heard that Canada welcomed Syrians. We went to a church, where we were told that Canadian people wanted to meet some Syrian families. We went for a short interview. And they told us there was only a small chance for us to go to Canada and it would be four years in the future. We were very sad and didn’t know what we would do for four years.

I really don’t know what happened then, but I think it was God’s work. After only four months, we received a call, telling us to go to the embassy for another interview, before travelling to Canada in only a few weeks. We were given four days' notice before our flight to Canada. We were extremely happy!

{Bushra's family was sponsored by St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Douro, Ontario. The family's first Canadian home was within the rectory, the priest's house. While many assume Syrians are all of the Muslim faith, Bushra's family is Catholic. They have since moved to an apartment in Peterborough, as being in the city is more convenient for work, school and errands, and the committee in Douro that originally made arrangements for them still provides a support system.}

What was it like when you first arrived here in Canada?   

Everything was different, different people, culture, food, houses...even floors. We were very happy to come to Canada, but I had a bit of {translates from Arabic to English on her smartphone app} depression for about two months after arriving, it was such a big change. The travel from Jordan to Canada happened very quickly for me. We were so happy to come here, but when we arrived I was a bit depressed. It was very hard.

How old were your kids when you arrived?

Bassal was five and Celina was 11 months when we arrived in Canada. Our son was also a bit sad, it was a hard transition for him as well. He wanted to go back to his friends in Jordan. 

What were the hardest things about being in a new country?

The culture and trying to raise children in a different way. However, I like the way Canadians raise children, better than back home. In Syria, boys are given everything. They are boys, and they will become men! Girls are always the second best. The best is a boy. If the family had a boy they would be very happy, but if they had a girl the father would be sad, as he wants a boy to pass on the name of the family. The language is also difficult. I still cannot speak well. 

{For someone who has been speaking the language for only one year, I would have to say Bushra's English is excellent. Six-year-old Bassal's skills, however are even stronger than his parents'.}

How are things going now that you have been here a year?

I love it! Now I really love Canada! I don't think I could ever go back and live in Syria. Here there are lots of honest people, they don’t lie. Your religion and colour don’t matter. All people are equal. There is no cheating here. 

My husband is working at No Frills, stocking shelves and I am usually home with the kids. Both of us are taking ESL classes. I am hoping to study hairstyling, nails and makeup at Fleming College. I would like to get a job in that field.

Celina is in daycare. My son is attending school {the local Catholic elementary school} and is in Grade 1. He likes school. But he likes to play alone, or he says that. Once when I passed the schoolyard I saw him playing alone. I spoke with the teacher but she says he is doing fine and playing with other children. He did have a best friend for a few weeks, but then he told me they aren’t friends anymore. His friend was boring. {As a teacher and a mom, I assured her this was normal.}

When Canadians hear about Syrian refugees, what do you want them to think?

They need to know more about Syria. Once we went to a church supper, where there were many Canadians and Syrians. A family sponsored a Syrian family, who is still in Lebanon, but they will come, and the man said, “Oh a table! That must be new for you, since you don’t have tables in Syria, right? You eat on the floor.” This is not true! So, some Canadians need a better understanding of where we came from and Syrian culture.

Because my blog is called "This Mom Loves", I'd like to ask you how you would finish the sentence "This mom loves..."? What about fashion and beauty products? I've been told you like shopping, and wearing high heels!

Yes, and I love L'Oréal makeup and beauty products, which we also had in Syria. 

What else do you love?

I like reading and going for walks. Salim likes to watch the soccer games on the weekend so we stay in and I like to cook traditional Syrian meals. I like turkey here, it is done differently in Canada. We had turkey in Syria, but it is made differently here. I love the turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes and the sauce. And cheesecake!


Thank you so much for sharing your story, Bushra.

{Note that responses were edited for length, clarity and flow.

Also please note that while a Twitter user gently suggested that I should be using the phrase "human from Syria" instead of "refugee from Syria", most of my interviews are conducted not solely because the interviewee is human, but because she or he has something newsworthy to share, as a TV personality, house-flipper, author, athlete, or in this case, someone who has fled a war-torn country and joined us here in ours. I do not for a moment dispute the humanity of Bushra as an individual, or that of any of her fellow natives of Syria, but acknowledging that every time I refer to her would make for a pretty lengthy headline or tweet.}


Sally said...

This is beautiful Kate and Bushra! Thank you for sharing this story. I very much enjoyed hearing about this newly arrived family's transition to Canada. And I absolutely love that Bushra is clearly a sassy girl who fits right in!!

Soozle said...

What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing!

Chelsey said...

I'm so happy for Bushra and her family. Thanks for sharing her story, Kate.

Sarah Young said...

I'm happy to read about Bushra's story. I have to admit that I was one of those people who did not know much about the Syrian culture but through stories like this I am learning. Thank you Kate and Bushra.