I live just outside of Windsor, Ontario. I’ve lived in this area for about fourteen years now. During that time, things have constantly gotten worse in regards to Windsor’s economic state of affairs. The factory system that so many people relied upon is broken, and it doesn’t seem to be coming back.
I’ve watched areas of Windsor become more run down, and more economically depressed over the years. When I first moved to this area, the misery of Windsor was nothing compared to the misery found a short border crossing away in Detroit. Now, those lines have blurred. It’s not so different anymore.
But what can we do? Pensions are being lost, the factories are closing, people are out of work, and many people are desperate. The system that was once extremely good to the hard-working, blue-collar workers of Windsor has left them in the dust.
They were replaceable by people and machines elsewhere for less money, less headache, and less union kerfuffle.
But this isn’t about them!
And perhaps I’m going to sound overly cynical here, but I’m not interested in talking about the worker who made a great deal of money and has enjoyed the over indulgences of North American life, like the SUV, a home above their means; pleasure boating on the weekends; cheesy stuffed crust pizza; way-way wayyyyyyy too much to eat; and never having to save for the day they were promised would never come….
(surprise – they lied).
I’m interested in talking about someone else.
I’m interested in talking about a Palestinian refugee family that recently immigrated to Canada. This family of seven is a Muslim family who’ve lived and experienced a life we’d consider a bad nightmare.
The family history is long and confusing. I’ll give you the summary notes.
A family of seven leaves Iraq when the US begins its famous “Shock & Awe” campaign.
Their teenage daughter, Dayna, has finally begun to sleep through the night as of about two months ago.
She was traumatized when the bombs began to fall.
The family ends up with thousands of others in a tent based refugee camp in Syria.
After the fighting calms down, the father returns to Baghdad to retrieve some belongings and sell his coffee business (which miraculously hasn’t been destroyed.) The father is met in Baghdad by thugs who hold a gun to his head and tell him never to return to his coffee shop and to leave Baghdad immediately.
He treks back to the Syrian border where he is denied entry and told to stay in Iraq. Years later he (somehow) makes it back to the refugee camp and is reunited with his family.
It takes the youngest boy, Mottasum, a long time to understand this strange man is his father. He was only a baby when they had to quickly escape Iraq.
Like winning the lottery, a piece of paper with family names is posted on a wall. These are people who will be granted refugee status to various countries of the world. Many of their friends will go to places like Australia, Switzerland, Canada, and more aren’t so lucky.
This family finds out that a church has agreed to sponsor them and bring them to Leamington, Ontario.
After a long journey, the family arrives in Windsor in the midst of a cold Canadian winter. Culture shock anyone?
Growing up in Ontario my exposure to people from this part of the world is one I’ve experienced mainly through films and the media.
What did I expect?
Maybe a ruthless and abusive father?
Maybe a 17-year old son who would tinker with alarm clocks, fertilizers, and uranium in the basement?
Perhaps three daughters that would be like slaves to the men of the house? Maybe a mother who only spoke when she was granted permission to do so?
After years of Hollywood movies and media manipulation, how could I expect anything but the obvious stereotypes?
What did we find?
We found one of the most loving and grateful families I’ve ever seen. We met a father who would do anything for every one of his children. A father who says “Leamington, Ontario is paradise.” He calls it “the nicest place on earth,” and says, “I will live, and die in Leamington.”
Ask someone who’s lived here for many years about the area and I bet you’ll get a slightly different response.
He marvels at the fact that people follow rules when driving.
A teenage boy who dreams of a driver’s license – never taking anything for granted.
A daughter who finds peace and solitude by spending her free time writing poetry.
A boy who could turn out to be a serious soccer star, seriously – he’s that good.
A daughter who can’t stop talking about the library.
A daughter whose perma-smile after a long day at her new school is infectious.
A mother with a great sense of humor that often has the family in stitches.
The simple pleasures of life are outstanding. I feel shame in how we’ve taken these things for granted.
The real eye-opener for me has been exactly that.
They take nothing for granted. The simple pleasures in life, like opening a bank account, or the twinkle in the parents eyes seeing their children go off to school, or the time we took them to see Avatar – the very first trip to a movie theater for most of them.
The fact that you can eat Pizza on a Tuesday night if you feel so inclined! It’s mind-boggling to them.
Of course within this newly found paradise we also find the pressing issues at hand. Church sponsorship represents about one-year of support for this family. During that time, there is countless support for learning English and hopefully finding work, but after that I’m not sure what happens.
Coming to Canada is one thing, but coming to an area of Canada that is quite possibly being hit the hardest by this economic mess is another issue entirely.
Along with my wife, and father-in-law, we spend Tuesday nights with the family working on English skills. We’ll also try, when the opportunity presents itself, to get them out of the house and go for a walk at the park, build a snowman, or see a movie. The simple pleasures of life we’ve all grown accustomed to accepting as normal everyday life occurrences.
Meeting this family has been one of the greatest things to happen in life. They don’t realize that while we come over Tuesday nights to help them learn, they teach us much more than we could ever offer.
I realize this post could be touchy for some. After all, we’ve been brainwashed in North America to believe that our jobs are ours, and outsiders shouldn’t get them. We make it difficult for people to enter our countries because of a belief they are taking jobs away from us. We cringe when we see another minority opening up a convenience shop. We make it hard for the brilliant technological minds of other countries to create start-ups in our countries.
We tend to believe outsiders mooch off the system and tie up resources and money that could be given to others.
But then I began to spend time with this family and realized a few things – those in Windsor who’ve had the good life making $30-$40 bucks an hour pressing buttons on the line never ate out of garbage cans or have had to live in tents, they did.
We still got to go to Applebees and eat processed Mozzarella sticks and boneless chicken wings, they didn’t.
Entitlement sucks. It sucks because the people who were duped by the system are now struggling, and struggling badly. It’s sad.
But those struggling also believe they are entitled to the good life again. They believe it’s coming back. They believe the government has a responsibility to step up and make it come back. I wouldn’t bank on it.
This family doesn’t feel entitled to anything. They know the road is long, and it’s going to be bumpy, but they’re thrilled.
They’re optimistic and thankful for the chance to experience the good life that awaits them in paradise.
The father expressed his excitement to me after he learned that another friend of his in Canada had landed his first paying job, as a dishwasher. He was thrilled for his friend and told me that he prayed one day he would be lucky enough to have a job, like that, in this great country.
I’m going to do my best to help them. We all should.