Faces in the Crowd – From Aleppo to Antigonish : A Journey to Peace

Posted on October 25, 2016 under Faces in the Crowd with no comments yet

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The Almashhoud family arrival at Stanfield International Airport – October 11, 2016

“We were so excited and relieved when we got the call that we had been accepted to travel to Canada. The suffering was going to end, and we were about to start a new life.”

Meet the Almashhoud family.

Aleppo is situated in the northwest corner of Syria, near the border of Turkey.  It is believed to be among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Yaser Almoustafa Almashhoud and his eight siblings were born into a middle class family. His future wife, Raghda Ahmad, and her seven brothers and sisters were also born in Aleppo. Her father taught at a trade school and owned an appliance repair shop. Both families lived a very peaceful existence.

During his high school years, Yaser had worked part time as a car mechanic so it was no surprise that he enrolled at the Syrian Republic Institute to take a car mechanic course. After graduation he did two and a half years of mandatory military service. Early in the new millennium he changed course and joined forces with his brother, who had a business in the burgeoning satellite television industry. The first satellite dish that he installed was at his parents’ house where he was living at the time. He was hooked on electronics.

Like many Syrian men, the trajectory of his life was fairly predictable: complete high school; take additional studies at a community college or university; complete military service; get a job; get engaged; get married after achieving some financial stability, and have a family. And, like the fairy tales, they would live happily ever after.

The fairy tale would eventually become a nightmare.

There is a Syrian proverb that goes something like this: “When you get engaged, the money will come.” Because of the success of the business, Yaser and Raghda were able to get married in 2002. The next ten years brought happiness and prosperity as Yaser and Raghda moved to increasingly larger houses with the births of their four children, Shahd, Nour, Mohamad and Yousuf.

The satellite dish market became saturated quickly, so Yaser moved into the new and exciting field of cell phone repair and service. Like most places in the world, cell phones were transforming the way people communicated.  He quickly became proficient with the technology and opened a small shop. From humble beginnings, the business flourished.

The rumblings of civil unrest began in the south of Syria in 2011. By 2012, Aleppo started to experience protests against the regime. These were peaceful gatherings with no signs of weapons or violence. This did not last long as the protests turned violent.  Yaser moved the family to a safer part of Aleppo. Things deteriorated quickly as they experienced food and fuel shortages. In late 2013, bombings erupted in the suburbs where the Almashhouds were living. The family was very frightened and at Raghda’s urging they decided to move to Idlib, where Raghda had relatives. The trip was not without incident as the terrified family encountered sniper fire along the route.

Less than 24 hours after arriving in Idlib, Yaser received a call from a neighbor in Aleppo inquiring about the family’s wellbeing. His friend was extremely concerned, as Yaser’s house has been flattened by a bomb that day and he was worried that the family had been inside. To this day, Yaser credits his wife and children’s instinct that it had been time to leave Aleppo.

After a short stay in Idlib, the family then moved to Al Bab as there was no work for Yaser in Idlib. Yaser also has relatives in Al Bab. After a few days in their new locale, bombs started to rain down on the city. Yaser and the entire extended family decided that it was time to leave Syria and they agreed to go en masse to Turkey. The departure was scheduled for 10:00 in the morning but was delayed until 2:00 that afternoon.  Yaser took the opportunity to get a haircut and shave at a local barber shop. While sitting in the chair, he could hear explosions nearby. He received a frantic call from a cousin who informed him that the house where the other family members were waiting prior to departure had been destroyed by bombs. Nine relatives, including aunts and uncles, died that day.

The next few years found the family moving numerous times in Syria and Turkey as the civil war raged on. Yaser eventually opened another store in Aleppo. He witnessed carnage on a daily basis, often taking the dead and dying to nearby hospitals. One day, he heard mortar fire and stepped outside his shop to find the lifeless bodies of more than two dozen people.

After many relocations and dislocations, the family ended up in Kilis, Turkey. At one point, the family occupied a cold, barren house that had no furniture. The family huddled together, sleeping on the floor under a couple of blankets. They remained in Kilis until January of 2016 when that city experienced bombing. A friend jokingly inquired if Yaser and the family were interested in registering to travel to Canada. Yaser immediately completed the paperwork.

They moved to the Turkish city of Mersin and in April 2016, they received a call from the United Nations Refugee Agency. They were very excited that there was now a file open for possible resettlement in Canada. A clerical error resulting in an incorrect phone number on Yaser’s application caused a delay, as the Canadian Embassy was trying to track the family down to tell them that they had been cleared to travel to Canada.

While they waited for news they enrolled the children in school in Turkey. On the day school started, they received the life-changing call that they would fly from Istanbul to Canada on October 10th of this year.

Near midnight on October 11th, a tired but very excited Almashhoud family came down the stairs into the arrival area of the Halifax airport. They were greeted by a group of Antigonish residents, including members of our growing Syrian community.  

As this family continues their journey let us welcome them warmly, with wishes for peace and safety in their new home.

 

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