Jameel Msatat, age 5, seems pretty confident about moving to Canada.
“He was marching forward, confident, like he is looking for a new adventure,” says Nelson resident Brian d’Eon, recalling the arrival of Msatat family at the Castlegar airport on Wednesday. The family — Mohammed and Tasmeen Msatat and their children, Jameel and Leen, 4 — are Syrian refugees brought to Nelson by the Cathedral Refugee Committee.
D’Eon says the family has spent the last two years living in a rooftop shed with a leaky roof in Beirut, Lebanon, after fleeing the destruction of Aleppo, Syria.
They flew from Beirut with a one-night stopover in Vancouver, to land in the undoubtedly bewildering world of Castlegar and Nelson. They don’t speak English, but were assisted with translation at the airport by Nelson resident Zaynab Mohammed.
“They appreciated our feeble attempts at Arabic,” says d’Eon, who was one of a group that took some basic Arabic lessons last month in Nelson, in anticipation of this arrival. “It was amusing because I used the three phrases that I knew and then Mohammed spoke to me in a full sentence, and I was completely helpless.”
The refugee committee, which has pledged, through the federal refugee program, to support the family in Nelson for one year, recently rented a house on Mill St. for the Msatats. D’Eon says the family was overwhelmed when they saw it.
“It has been beautifully furnished with the help of various businesses and volunteers around town, and they are thrilled about it. They were flabbergasted. They could not believe they also had a backyard. The two children have beds upstairs and they were very excited about that.”
D’Eon says the next few weeks the group will help the family with getting social insurance numbers and a bank account, showing them where and how to shop, looking into school for Jameel, and starting language assessments and English lessons for both parents.
“And then we have a whole cadre of people ready to be tutors, including me. At the same time we want them to have a few days where they can have some down time and catch up on their sleep.”