I am reading various books with dramatic stories of immigrants and refugees to Canada – stories of persons who have fled civil war, genocide, and terrorism. While many details in these books are heart-wrenching, shocking, and extreme, what I find interesting is what is actually most moving because the things that move me most are not so much the intense episodes but rather the tender ones.
In Tima Kurdi’s The Boy on the Beach, Tima recounts being a new immigrant to Canada from Syria in the early 1990s. She had married an Iraqi Kurd who was living in Vancouver but had returned to Syria to find a wife. They married, moved to Canada, and had a son together, but after a few years she decided to separate. Tima recounts “living in a shabby rental apartment building that was home to many single mothers and their children.” She didn’t yet know English well, so she managed to get a job working the overnight shift at a newspaper’s printing press along with Filipino, Indian, and Pakistani immigrants who were in similar situations to her.
One night while I was at work, the stress and exhaustion were overwhelming. I started to cry, and the tears plopped onto the newspaper ink. Linda, the night shift supervisor, noticed me and came over. I thought I was going to be fired, but she said nothing. Instead, she just worked alongside me. The next night she did the same thing, but this time she taught me a new English word and she said she would keep doing this–a new word every night.
Gradually Tima and Linda became good friends and Linda helped Tima get started working in a high-end hair salon in Vancouver since Tima had had experience working at a salon in Syria but thought that she couldn’t do this work in Canada without certification.
The work that Tima did at this salon enabled her to support her son and return to Damascus for family visits.
These may seem like the least dramatic aspects of the entire book, but they are heartwarming and I think they cultivate patriotism. Canada’s stability can sometimes seem boring, unreal, and bland. Other countries where so much more seems to be happening can have an certain allure because of the intensity. Yet, Canada’s charm comes into focus when grasped and appreciated as the refuge it is for so many for whom it is the haven to which they have fled precisely to regain something of the normalcy they cherished in their home countries.
As Tima reflects, “No matter the specific traditions of religion or sect, my impression was, and still is, that Syrians have always bonded over the things that stitch together the fabric of daily life–love, marriages, births, deaths, jobs, weather, cultural trends, food, drink, music, dance, sorrow, and laughter.”