When I walked into the Lions Centre in Oxford at two o’clock last Sunday afternoon, there were five other people in the room. Two tables were covered in bowls of snacks, and a large cake with red and white icing, inscribed with the word “Welcome”, waited to be cut into pieces.
By the time town councillor Dawn Thompson hollered at everyone to gather along one wall for an “Oxford family photo”, at least fifty people had attended the welcome party for Jabar and Shinda and their three-year-old daughter Dilla,
Surrounded by their new neighbours, members of the resettlement committee, and other resettled families who have been in Cumberland County for over a year, Jabar and Shinda would have had no doubt about the official and genuine welcome to their new home.
Oxford’s resettlement committee is made up of two co-chairs (including Dawn Thompson) and fifteen members of the community who serve on nine committees covering all aspects of the family’s arrival this past September, including housing, finances and fundraising, documentation, driver’s licenses, and language classes. Every single thing about living in Nova Scotia that we take for granted – and often complain about –represent to this young couple peace and security after years of uncertainty and anxiety.
The first and most important job for Jabar and Shinda is to learn English so they can work. Language classes begin immediately and when their English is good enough, there are opportunities available for them at Oxford Frozen Foods.
Maybe it’s because my work involves telling stories that I find the most frustrating part of welcoming a refugee family is the inability to communicate with them. It seems so unfriendly to not be able to carry on a conversation. Sure, we have the universal language of smiling, but at the party, none of us could talk without a translator, and that’s disappointing because how do we truly get to know each other better without asking questions and listening to stories?
There is much more to Jabar and Shinda than being former citizens of Syria forced to leave because of war. They are more than refugees; they are a man and a woman, they are parents. They have childhood stories; they have dreams; they have talents. What if we have our very own chocolate maker right here in Oxford?! We are more alike than we are different, but it will take longer to discover what we have in common since we are limited, for the time being, to smiles and nods and hand shakes.
I suppose the most important information was being communicated successfully: you are a part of the Oxford family.
I watched the beautiful baby girl born here in Cumberland County just a year ago being fussed over, and I saw Dilla’s face light up when a girl named Faith gave her the gift of a doll with long, dark curly hair, and I learned the young sons of another resettlement family are now able to translate for their parents, and I realized that’s where you really see the hope and promise of a fresh start.
Perhaps that’s the truly universal language that brings us together: the joy of children.
Sara Jewell is a freelance writer who lives near Port Howe. Visit her website at www.sarajewell.ca