“Our life here is getting a little better every day,” says Afghan family in Canada

”“Our life here gets a little better every day”, says an Afghan family in Canada

A year ago, the Taliban took Kabul, a rapid takeover that surprised many observers.

Due to the language barrier in Quebec, the family had to move to Ontario.

The arrival of fundamentalists in power in Afghanistan has caused an exodus. In the process, more than 17,200 people found refuge in Canada. Where are they, a year later? Follow-up, with one of the families who had chosen to settle in Quebec, before moving to Ontario.

The welcome is always so warm from this young Afghan family, a rare constant in a year marked by many changes.

Abdullah receives us with a smile. An assumed name chosen in the hope of protecting his relatives who remained in Afghanistan. These relatives for whom nothing has improved in a year.

Abdulah's wife, Maheen (also an assumed name) joins us, glasses of lemonade in hand . The children are making noise in the next room, a bedroom where mattresses are on the floor.

The apartment isn't really any more furnished than it was last winter: a small dining table, appliances, beds. Also, equipment purchased new, modest, thanks to the Quebec government.

Notable difference in the apartment, a television now keeps company on the couch. The family also has winter clothes and a few more toys than when they arrived in Canada.

For us, it's good, Canada. Abdullah says he has no regrets, even though he is more than 10,000 kilometers from his parents, his friends, his culture. Even if he doesn't know when he will take them in his arms again.

No regrets, even if a year after a leap into the unknown, the family finds itself in sort of back to square one. She moved to Ontario, 700 kilometers from the Quebec city where she initially intended to start a new life.

Why did we leave Sherbrooke? It's for work, says Abdullah. A pragmatic choice, which he justifies in precise enough English to make himself understood.

The family of Abdullah, 32, and Maheen, 28, have done a lot a long way since leaving Kabul with two backpacks. The couple fled, a 7-year-old girl in their hands, a 4-year-old toddler in their arms.

In twelve short months, the family was uprooted, had to learn to navigate the Canadian bureaucracy, to deal with the Quebec winter. COVID has disrupted their plans, isolation has sometimes weighed heavily.

Trying to understand why they left this Quebec which opened its arms to them, is to have to place oneself in the shoes of foreigners looking for landmarks in a society very different from their own.

Despite Abdullah's wishes, learning French proved too difficult an obstacle to overcome. Before working as a cook, he first had to learn the language, but also the vocabulary specific to catering.

It would have taken me too long, launches the father, eager to earn a living for his family without government aid. And then, there are not enough hotels and restaurants in Sherbrooke to hope for a job.

The couple did get offered full-time francization classes last winter, but that was without the childcare required for the youngest. Abdullah therefore stayed at home with her 4-year-old son.

Maheen began a class session in Pavilion 2 of the Cégep de Sherbrooke, without an interpreter by her side, she who did not speaks hardly any English.

She couldn't communicate with the other students, Abdullah laments. No one spoke Dari in class. She could only listen to French, not really knowing what we were talking about.

After a few absences related to COVID and the eldest's appendicitis, Maheen was forced to drop out of class. Without mastering enough French to interact with foreigners.

By choosing Ontario, Abdullah and Maheen have joined half of the Afghans who have settled in the country in the past year. About a quarter of those 17,200 arrivals preferred Alberta.

Quebec welcomes only 630, or about 3% of all those who have arrived in the past year. By e-mail, the ministry in charge of their reception underlined that Quebec was ready to welcome more families.

Abdullah and Maheen also had difficulty forming friendships. Important relationships to better decipher the codes of society. Around them, there were mostly people who were also settling in Quebec.

Abdullah and Maheem were well connected with the host organization designated by the province to accompany them. The first steps were useful, but the staff was overwhelmed to answer day-to-day questions.

The family did consider moving to the suburbs of Montreal, where several Afghans live, but the suburb of Toronto came into its own. A bit by chance. Thanks to an unexpected call from a childhood friend.

I show them the malls, the best parks. Kasim, this old found friend, takes care of the family as if it were his own. He offers advice and explains the laws.

The list of questions is varied: how to get a first credit card? Insurance for a car? Which school to send the children to? When to enroll them?

Kasim does his best to answer, offers Abdullah a little job and even prepares family Sunday outings.

It's to distract them, to make them forget a bit about what they left behind. It's hard to go to the airport and leave everything so suddenly. To leave your parents, brothers and sisters for a country you don't know, explains Kasim.

Do you like fish, Mr. Yanik? Discreetly for several minutes, Abdullah has been preparing a meal for the guests. His way of welcoming the journalist, but also of thanking his friend.

Abdullah prepared fish for the occasion.

Maheen also made friendships. Muslim women met in the neighborhood park, with whom she can talk in Farsi or Dari. Children play, women support each other, help each other.

Sabina, in her fifties, moved to Ontario about ten years ago. Her children are grown. She took Maheen under her wing, a bit like this mother today too far.

First, the language. Without language, there will be no life here. Sabina was clear with her protege. She needs to learn English quickly, in order to manage without her husband, to be able to study.

The first years are not easy, she admits , estimating that it will take them about ten years to learn English, to find a good job.

For the parents, it will not be easy, she continues. But it will be fine for their children. It's much safer than Afghanistan. For that, it's Canada.

The Canadian-Afghan community is tightly knit.

These friendships are of course a breath of fresh air for Maheen, who found himself isolated in Sherbrooke. In the suburbs of Toronto, she shines.

The children are also eager to make friends at school. The 8-year-old is particularly keen to invite friends over to play video games.

Abdullah is fluent enough in English to take the next step right away. He cherishes a dream, that of opening a good restaurant, of mixing Afghan cuisine with local cuisine.

He didn't think about the decor, I would follow my wife's advice, he explains. This restaurant is my goal. I need a goal. Otherwise, I don't really know what I would do with my days.

This project is also a way to forget this sometimes frustrating daily life. It's a bit of balm on this wound opened by the absence of loved ones and the distance from one's native land.

We are as bored as when days, says Abdullah, who sends them some money every month, often calls his parents or those of Maheen.

We were decided that we were Canadians, that it&# x27;was our country now. Here, our life gets a little better every day, while in Afghanistan, it only gets worse.

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