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Antigonish: Home away from home for Al Hariri family

Esmaeel Al Hariri, explaining how the filming of the documentary film entitled Salam Neighbour eventually led to his family’s departure from the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, across the Atlantic to Canada, to start a new life after fleeing the violence in their home country of Syria.
Esmaeel Al Hariri, explaining how the filming of the documentary film entitled Salam Neighbour eventually led to his family’s departure from the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, across the Atlantic to Canada, to start a new life after fleeing the violence in their home country of Syria. - Contributed

Esmaeel Al Hariri recounts journey from Syria to Antigonish

When was the last time there was war in Canada?

When Esmaeel Al Hariri came to Canada he wanted to know and was pleasantly surprised to hear the answer – 1812.

This, suffice to say, was a dramatic change of affairs from what Al Hariri and his family were accustomed to, forced out of their home in Syria by bombs detonating too close to their village –part of the ongoing civil war in the country.

“One day, when the bombing came to my country, I said, ‘I’ll never leave Syria,’ and then the day the bombing came to my village, I decided I should take my family to a safe place,” Al Hariri said.

The Al Hariri family had to make the trek to the Jordanian border in the dead of night by foot, walking 2 kilometers along a farmer’s road, avoiding military checkpoints.

“If the military caught you (crossing), you’d go to prison,” Al Hariri said.

The Al Hariri family weren’t exactly in greener pastures after they left Syria. After fleeing to Jordan, the family spent the next six years at the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Eastern Jordan, living in a trailer.

If the name is starting to sound familiar at this point, it’s because Al Hariri and his family appeared in Salam (Peace) Neighbour, a documentary film depicting life in the Jordanian refugee camp.

While Salam Neighbour was being filmed, Al Hariri got to know the directors and eventually asked them if they could help him find a better place to raise his family.

Al Hariri said that although the camp was an improvement from the imminent danger of staying in their home in Syria, conditions were far from ideal for raising a family.

“I said I need another place for myself and my family because Za’atari Camp winters are very miserable, and the summer is very hot,” Al Hariri said.

The Za’atari camp and its shelters were exposed to the brunt of the elements in all seasons, and residents in the camp experienced every extreme possible, from baking heat (reaching as great as 45 degrees, Celsius) in the summer, to snow, wind and flooding in the winter.

“In the winter, many tents and shelters leak, and collapse. People were often soaking wet inside, and miserable. Sometimes, there are fires that are started from people who are trying to keep warm in the winter,” Al Hariri recounted.

Al Hariri and his family eventually received proverbial ticket to a better place, with an offer of a private sponsorship.

When the he was called and told the sponsorship was a go and he was moving to Canada – the revelation it entailed was about the last thing he expected to hear.

In the midst of Ramadan fasting, Al Hariri was fighting off fatigue to visit the main street of the camp to get some groceries – just another average day – when he received a call.

“My phone rang, and that was the call for the travel. I laughed – it was a noisy laugh. It was nice to hear that,” Al Hariri said.

Al Hariri’s happiness was mingled with sadness. Although he was taking his wife and children with him, he would have to leave his parents and friends behind in Jordan.

“When I got the call, I knew it was a moment that had changed my life,” Al Hariri said.

The Al Hariri family flew from Jordan, to Germany – eventually reaching Montreal and then Halifax.

“It was a very nice day, and I was tired when I arrived, but then I realized we needed to do another three hours of driving,” he said with a chuckle, recounting the last leg of the journey.

Eager to immortalize the first moment he stepped out of a car in Antigonish, Al Hariri sat poised by the window, camera in hand, but the exhaustion of back-to-back international flights caught up with him, and “I took a nap,” he admitted with a grin.

“I was so tired from two days of travel,” he said.

Al Hariri used two words quite a bit when describing everything relating to his new life in Antigonish, “so nice.”

“It’s a nice place, with nice people,” Al Hariri said. “Even my teachers are nice, and they’ve already taught me so much.”

“When Esmaeel came to Antigonish, he could understand some English and speak a few words, but we worked with him and now he can really string them together,” Zane deNoncourt, one of Al Hariri’s tutors, told the Casket.

deNoncourt, who stood by to help Al Hariri by providing translation or clarification had to do very little, as Al Hariri demonstrated his talent with the English language with a candid account of his journey to Canada. She praised him for being a quick study.

Al Hariri expressed his gratitude – both for being able to bring his family to Antigonish to start a new life – and for the opportunity to share the journey of how they came to Canada with the community in Antigonish.

 


 




 

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