"Our life is frittered away by detail...simplify, simplify." - Henry David Thoreau

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Journey from the Congo

Oh boy. Or should I say boys? It has been a long week of single motherhood. My mother did arrive to help out while my Other Half was off at a trade show, although she was 24 hours late. First she was too tired to come up on Tuesday night and then she forgot to set her alarm on Wednesday morning. I had to have Number One Son at the ski hill for 8:30am and the other two at school for 8:40am, they are about 20 minutes apart. Thank goodness for neighbours, it really does take a village.

I love my mother and my boys do too but reliable she is not. Once she was here everyone had fun, she loves to just hang out and the boys love to vie for her attention with stories of what is happening at school. It must be a grandmother thing since they never tell me a thing about their days. But one thing that did come out from Number Two Son who is nine and in Grade 4 is that there is going to be a new student in his class soon. We had been hearing about a refugee family from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)who are being sponsored by the churches in our town. There are six family members, including mother, father, 16 year old son, and 13, 9 and 3 year old daughters. The nine year old will be in my middle son's class. Not much is known about the family except that they speak French and Swahili. The DRC is in central Africa and was formerly known as Zaire and before that the Belgian Congo. Barbara Kingsolver's book The Poisonwood Bible is set in this country during colonial times.

The DRC is rich in minerals including diamonds and copper and has suffered almost constant war both internally and against neighbouring countries since these resources were discovered. The people, of course, have suffered the most and this family is no exception. They had a fourth daughter who was raped and murdered while they were fleeing their village. The family will be arriving any day now and will be welcomed by our entire town. A house has been donated for them to live in and has been completely repainted and fully furnished with donations of time, money and furniture. The family will be greeted at the Toronto airport with bags of winter clothing for each of them and that is where I start to wonder what on Earth they will be thinking as they are handed parkas, hats, mitts and snow boots. The average temperature in the DRC is about 28C or 82F. Right now we are experiencing our January "thaw" and the temperature is around -7C or 19F. The ground is completely white and Georgian Bay is partially frozen. Will they believe us when we tell them that the trees that look so grey and dead will blossom in a few months and that underneath all the snow the grass, flowers and even animals are just sleeping?

But is not just the climate shock they will be going through that I cannot fathom, it is the culture shock. They come from a country of 68 million and although it is the third largest country in Africa it is still significantly smaller than Canada. They have been living in tents in a camp crammed in with thousands of other refugees and they are coming to a place where you can drive for miles and never see another person and not just in the winter when we are all hibernating. They will be living in a house with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. How will the children react to sleeping apart from their parents? How will they react to attending school where the vast majority of the student body is white, English speaking and have known one another since Kindergarten? What will it be like for the parents to cope with the every day details of grocery shopping in a supermarket with entire aisles devoted to boxes of cereal and potato chips? Will they ever be able to forget what they went through to get here?

As I deal with the day-to-day stresses of raising three boisterous, active and healthy boys and complain about the driving from ski hill to arena, the constant battle to get homework done, meals prepared and eaten I realize all that we take for granted. As soon as this family arrives I will be one of the regular volunteers helping them with their shopping, driving to appointments and getting the children settled in school. I am hoping my ability to speak French will allow them to understand me and me them despite the vast differences in our lives. I hope, despite the cold climate and our Canadian reputation for being reserved, that we will be able to welcome them with warmth and joy so that their new life here will be worth all the emotional and physical sacrifices they have endured to get here.


  1. This is such a wonderful thing... really gives hope that people aren't all that bad. I hope this family settles in, and learns to live in such a different place. It sounds like there will be a lot of people on hand to help out. Such a great story. I hope you have updates on this family. It would be great also to find something like this in my area to be involved in. Thanks for such a heart-warming story.

  2. your comment about the aisles devoted to cereals really struck a chord with me. I can't begin to fathom how this mom is going to cope. good luck to the whole family, and kudos to all of you.

  3. What an exciting endeavor--for everyone involved.

  4. I will be sure to keep you all updated on the family once they have arrived in the Great White North.

  5. I am glad your Mom could come and visit and help. Aren't grandparents just the best : ) I am visiting from SITS this morning.

  6. Man, you are one busy lady. I appreciate that you stopped by today and that I am able to help expand your blogosphere with my Meet n' Greet Monday feature.

    Have a wonderful week, SITSta!

  7. Wow. What an amazing community you have - that family will surely come to love you all. You're so right though - what in the world will they think when they get off that plane? It's a whole different world. I wish them the best of luck in settling down and creating a new life in Canada.


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