By Irma Plett, Blumenort EMC
This morning I was sitting in the coffee room at English Class (SEELS), where I volunteer as our refugee family’s language helper, thinking how very privileged I am. Who would ever have imagined, when I joined the Refugee committee in Blumenort last Spring, that my life would be so blessed by these friendships? When I walked into the room, six Muslim women were sitting on the couches, jabbering in Arabic.
In the class, the teacher is known to say, “Speak English, please,” but here, in their coffee room, I often say, “Speak Arabic, please.” I love listening to their chatter, even though I can’t understand. I know how hard they work to learn English, how much they have to concentrate every morning to understand and speak this new language. They need this 15-minute break where they can speak freely. Yet so often they break out of their fluent Arabic into faltering English, just to make sure I am included.
Alima and her mother Nawal* are the most outgoing, fun-loving of the group. They have also been in Canada longest. I forget sometimes that they are still in the beginning stages of language learning until they ask me how to say something in English. One day I told them I would not be at class for a week and Alima said, “Oh no! I need you here. I will miss you.”
On the last day of classes before the Christmas break, Alima invited the teacher and me, and the other refugee women, for lunch at her house during the break. That was some lunch! Wow! Eight women around the table: four Syrians, one Somalian and three Canadians. We had such a wonderful time; we feasted on Syrian food, laughed at attempted English, compared various traditions, and sang “O Canada” into Nawal’s phone so they could all learn the words.
Rasha and Talibah are much more reserved. They don’t say much in a group, but they seem to soak up the camaraderie and the English. These two young women seem to be kindred spirits and wish they lived closer together. (I am looking forward to watching their friendship blossom now that their husbands both have driver’s licences and they can go visit independently of their sponsors.)
The two newest women in the group are young mothers, but I think they are from different religious groups than the rest. I will need to make a point of including them when we meet for the next social event, which they say must be at my house. I do so love this group of women; can’t say how much. I am so privileged to be counted as their friend.
*names have been changed to protect identity