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It's Not 'Cool' That My Next-Door Neighbours Are Syrian Refugees

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I've told a few people about an experience I had this past March when I met my new neighbours: a family of nine, soon to be 10. Mama, Papa and seven little ones with one on the way. I've told them of the smiley toddler, the language barrier and the fact that my family cares deeply for these people.

"That's so cool."

"That's awesome."

These are some of the responses I've received. Probably generic, yes, and said without much thought, yes. But as I knelt in prayer, crying desperately to my God for this family, I felt prompted to share my belief that there is NOTHING cool about the fact that my new neighbours are Syrian refugees.

Papa is playing charades with us. "Syria" we understand through his Arabic as he vividly describes the explosions and the noise and the warfare. He slashes his hand across his throat.

He has seen people die.

"Canada," he says clearly. He inhales deeply as he raises his hands in praise. "Aaaaah," he exhales.

He is safe here.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with a Syrian refugee during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 1, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

And I am so, so happy for that. I am grateful that his doors lock and he has heat and can sleep at night not worrying if he will see his children again the next day.

But he left behind his home.

His parents, his brothers and his sisters. The scenery he'd known from birth. The towns where he once played. His friends, cousins and those he prayed next to in the mosque.

They are all remnants of his past.

Mama left behind her baby blankets, her keepsakes and her trinkets. The things that women cherish, that trigger memories and serve as mile-markers in our lives. In the middle of her pregnancy, she left behind her mother and her best friend, her local market, her spices and her pots and pans.

They were fleeing for their life.

Being a refugee isn't fun, you see. It is not an adventure. It isn't an extended vacation at the expense of another.

It is a sacrifice. It is a last resort.

They may be safe here, but they wish that their own country wasn't at war.

They would rather be there than here.

They left behind all that they had, and all that they had known to move with seven small children to a country whose language they do not speak, whose streets they do not know, whose people they do not understand.

They are scared and they are brave.

I can NO LONGER escape the reality of the horrors of the world. Because members of my community have experienced it.

As an international student, I am sincerely grateful to live where I live, and study what and where I study. However, I live in a country that is not my own and few here can understand what it is like to miss your own anthem, your own vocabulary and your own sky. Your own radio stations. The roads you learned to drive on. The little things that make home, home.

And here there is so much cultural overlap. Here, we essentially speak the same language. I have zero feelings that can comprehend what it is like to be a refugee except this:

I do not feel at home here.

I am sure most everyone has put on their happiest faces and faced the world with a fake bravery, only to express your tears of frustration and disappointment to the pillow that night because you are overwhelmed and have no grip on your life.

I know I have.

And I can guarantee you Mama and Papa do the same.

canada syria
A different refugee family from Syria poses for photos at the Toronto Port Authority in December 2015. (Photo: Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

We are safe here, so we are happy, they say. But at night they feel the distance between Calgary and Damascus. The baby kicks and Mama wonders how she will tend to her children without the help of a family member.

She is alone.

It is not cool that they are here.

It is not cool that they are here.

It is sad.

It means families were torn apart.

It means Mama feels lonely and afraid.

It means parents have to explain to children the realities of war.

It means Papa used to worry about how his family would be protected if he was killed.

It is not cool that there is a war going on and that people are hurting and suffering and we don't stop to spend two seconds thinking about them.

Frankly, it sucks that my new neighbours are Syrian refugees.

That is ultimately what Canada represents to me: loving your neighbours, regardless of who they are or where they are from.

It means I can NO LONGER escape the reality of the horrors of the world. Because members of my community have experienced it. Because they had to LIVE IT and I am no longer emotionally uninvolved.

It means tears roll down my cheeks as I plead with God to bless them in their new land. That they may come to love it as I do. That they may be comforted and find peace despite the fact that they have lost everything and all I can give them is a place in my heart.

Note from the blogger: I had originally prefaced my post with these words, back when I published it in March:

I'm nervous to post this because it's raw, and it's emotional, and it's revealing. It was written in the heat of the moment, but three weeks later, I still feel that it needs to be said.

Today, I add the following: our Syrian children are rapidly learning English. It turns out that through mis-translation and language barriers, Mama is not currently having another baby like we had thought. Mama and Papa, who still struggle to communicate, take evening walks with their children and they are a frequent sight on the sidewalks.

The kids whiz around their back yard on bikes and sometimes knock on the door wondering if my dad can put some drywall mud over a ding in the wall that was likely caused by moving furniture around. The floors are always being swept and mopped; the beds (three to a room) are always made.

I am at school in the States, so I don't get to see them as often as I would like, but their presence and their laughs, which are burned deeply into my mind, lead me to smile and reminisce on the wonderful privilege I have, to be a Canadian and to be part of such a great cause.

I recognize, however, the my neighbours to the south are not the only neighbours that need love, whether it be the elderly gentleman across the way or the middle-aged couple gardening on the other side of the fence. That is ultimately what Canada represents to me: loving your neighbours, regardless of who they are or where they are from.

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