Welcoming Afghan newcomers

Welcoming Afghan newcomers

By Anela Jadunandan

There was a knock on my door. I looked through the glass to see who it was and there he was, a man in a long coat with a kind face.

I decided to open the door to see what he wanted. He said he was from one of the big telephone companies and was selling their services.  I said I am not about to switch as I’ve been with the other company for over 30 years. He said he could “save me money” if I switched. He would show me how (and who doesn’t want to save money?).

So, I reluctantly agreed and we discussed details. I told him to come back the next day to explain more while I think about it.

During our conversation the next day, I found out he was from Afghanistan and coincidentally had been living in my cousin’s basement for a few months to save money for when his refugee family comes over. Small world, eh?

Ali (not his real name) came to North America under special status and had to apply for his family while he educated himself.  He has 4 children, under 12, and a wife still waiting in Afghanistan. His sales offer seemed legit so I decided to take the plunge and switch my services to the one he was selling. I felt glad to help him earn his living under such circumstances.

Two weeks passed and I got a call from my cousin telling me there was an Afghan man who was going to the airport to pick up his wife and 4 kids and needed help with a baby car seat and a ride. They would need 2 cars to pick them up.

I immediately connected the dots that it was Ali and thus the story begins.

They moved into a 1-1/2 bedroom apartment in Scarborough that only had a bed, pots and pans and one chair.

The next day, my husband and I rushed over with some food, clothing and whatever else we had handy.

I took a deep breath, for there was a mattress on the floor where 3 kids slept. A few pillows and a comforter on the floor where the 2-year-old sleeps.

I reached out for help from my Facebook friends. Almost immediately a friend whom I’d worked with many years ago stepped up saying he will buy them a brand-new flat screen, smart TV! I was very grateful. They were speechless!

My cousin offered to come install the TV on the wall.  Another friend offered $400 to buy a bunk bed and yet another offered them free carpet, kitchen utensils and a dining table.

My husband and I were at their apartment to see what else they needed. This family was so grateful and I could see the 4 kids looking at me, checking me out. None of them spoke a word of English except for the dad.  

The wife was looking at me, not sure what to make of me. She was in full hijab and so were the two little girls aged 7 and 9. As we got up to leave the apartment all 4 of the kids stood up.  I was taken aback. I asked Ali why they were all standing. He said in his Afghanistan culture, when your guest is leaving, you always stand as a sign of respect.  I couldn’t get over their manners or as my friend would say, their Adab. Had it been our kids (or grand-kids) they would have continued doing what they were doing.

Each time we would visit their apartment, the boys would kiss the back of my hand. Yes, I felt like royalty!! They all came to like us and would look forward to our visits.

Can I tell you what a great cook the wife is?  She cooks great Afghan food with little or no effort. I can’t imagine having 4 kids in an apartment and doing the job she does. Every time we go there, either to help set up the bed, or install something, they would never let us leave without offering us tea and nuts with homemade cookies.

One thing I’ve learned is never be in a rush when you go to visit Ali ! You must stay and have tea and eat a meal (break bread) with them!  We had done similar work with Syrian-Canadian newcomers and so this experience helped us tremendously.

Getting the kids enrolled into school, getting OHIP and a SIN card have also been quite the task. Thankfully, getting them into school was one of the easier ones.

The dad is highly educated in the Environmental Science field. He used to be a manager in a large utility company in Afghanistan with hundreds of employees (yes, I checked out his LinkedIn profile).  I was humbled to know that he has his Masters in Environmental Science. He is still looking for work.

I recently put another post on Facebook asking for more furniture as the dining room set had a broken leg. Then, out of nowhere a wonderful sister contacted me to say she can help with a dining room set, a large rug, a baby stroller and a slew of other things she had around the house.

The bigger girl is so obsessed with me that she stands beside me all the time. She will never let me lift a finger to move my cup into the sink. She even peels my pistachio nuts!! She peels them and hands them to me all ready to be eaten. She wants to pour my tea. She hugs me every opportunity she gets.  

All I can see in these children’s eyes is how grateful they are for being in Canada and for meeting all these good people who have helped them. They are in school now and they love it.  They even love the snow! Someone showed them how to make snow angels. Appropriate time of year!

A friend from my old workplace donated boxes of toys, clothing, food and toiletries as a charitable gesture for the holidays. The kids were very excited, but of course they chose to play with the box the stuff came in.  Do kids in other parts of the world do this too?

We visited them a few days ago and saw the dad and the kids praying their Zuhr salaat. Our friend Shereen had given them a new carpet which they are using for prayers.

They are humble and don’t need too much. As a matter of fact, they’ve received so much clothing that they are giving to other Afghan friends and whoever needs it. The girls asked their mother when they could start helping other families?  They wanted to do what others were doing for them. I told their mom to explain to them that they have to wait until they’ve settled down before they concentrate on giving back.

Muslims and non-Muslims have stepped up to help the Afghans get settled in Canada.

We are grateful for all this help and it makes our heart glow to see how generous Canadians are, regardless of race, colour or religion.

Mashaallah, Ali’s family is one of those who will live, work, play, grow and thrive in Canada.  Then they too will help others the way they were helped.  Isn’t this what the Golden Rule is all about?  Thank you, Canada and Canadians, from the family!

[Anela Jadunandan is community activist in the Greater Toronto Area]

This article is reprinted with the permission of the website Islamophobia.io where this article was originally published. Islamophobia.io is an Emergency Response Tool designed for Muslims and allies for outreach using digital storytelling. Although storytelling is a common tool, having adedicated repository using storytelling to counter Islamophobiais the fresh offering. Said stories provide nuance and context which will immediately help fight Islamophobia.