“Families Don’t Have Borders”–Canadians Welcoming Syrian Refugees Get More Than They Bargained For
From the New York Times, an article about an illiterate Syrian shepherd’s family brought to Canada by naive Canadians who assume that nuclear families are the global norm:
When ordinary Canadians signed up to help Syrian refugees, neither group expected to face agonizing questions from half a world away.
By JODI KANTOR and CATRIN EINHORN
… Seven months earlier, the couple had been catapulted to a new life. As many other nations were shunning refugees, a group of Canadian strangers had essentially adopted the family for a year, an effort repeated thousands of times across the country. …
The family was living through the first refugee crisis in history in which people without countries or homes could communicate instantaneously with one another. Previous generations of refugees often ached for any information about relatives, but now messages zipped back and forth around the world on free apps. The joy of such regular communication came at a steep cost: constant updates on the misery of relatives left behind, intensifying worry and impeding progress for those trying to carve out a new life. The Hajjes’ phone pulsed with voice messages in Arabic:
Enjoy every sip of cold water, because I have none.
Ms. Hajj, however, often stayed up for much of the night to converse with relatives seven hours ahead, growing weepy and exhausted by dawn. Like many of the relatives, she had never learned to read or write, so they used WhatsApp to volley short voice recordings. Those messages felt like a lifeline, and the ones that were not harrowing were comforting: greetings for the Eid al-Adha holiday among her 16 half and full siblings, and a running whose-baby-is-cuter photo contest. Sometimes she woke her 10-year-old son, Majed, in the middle of the night for technical help.
She was trying to embrace life in Canada, cheering during her children’s soccer matches and soaking up advice on tummy time and solid food for her 5-month-old, Julia. But her husband worried that the infusions of survivor’s guilt were preventing her from fully entering her new world. She often seemed more connected to the electronic constellation of relatives back home than to the Toronto streets she did not know and the English signs she could not decipher. When the sponsors tutored her in English, she often yawned through the lessons.
The article doesn’t mention that many Syrian in-laws are also blood relatives due to the popularity of cousin marriage, which increases clannishness.