Athar is a young Syrian refugee living in Saskatoon whose quick laughter and generous smiles hide a world of pain. She says,

“I have to laugh. If I couldn’t laugh, my heart would die from the sadness.”

Three years ago, Athar remembers how she was full of hope for her future. Newly wed, she was looking forward to joining her husband at the university—he was law student and she planned to begin studying psychology. They lived much like any young newlyweds, full of life and love and anticipation, in a freshly furnished suite in his parents’ home, brimming with the gifts they had received from their wedding of only ten days ago. Their plans, however, turned to ash with the bombing of their village and the arrival of military forces.

Many people died that first day of bombing—young and old—for bombs do not discriminate. After losing their own home and all of their possessions, Athar’s husband made the decision to flee. Gripped by terror and horrified at the thought of leaving behind family and friends and every single thing that was familiar, they began the dangerous journey to the border and across into Lebanon.

“I remember that I didn’t want to go, but my husband, Mohammed, insisted. He, like my brother, hadn’t yet served his time in the army, so we had to sneak out. We were almost caught on the border. I know that if they had taken him, he would have never come back. They put up walls and all sorts of obstacles to try to stop refugees from leaving and the army had to check each one of us.  When it came time for them to check Mohammed, his brother bribed the army officials to let him go. He crossed into Lebanon. I went a week later. I was travelled with my husband’s family—his mother, sister, and sister-in-law. We went by car. We didn’t take anything with us, though. Mohammed’s sister was in Lebanon and we were able to live with her until they found an apartment for us. Then we settled in this apartment. The men started working, and we, the women, stayed at home. We left behind our education, our schools, our colleges, and our dreams. We had no choice but to leave, for the horrors going on in Syria are still continuing today.”

Athar’s parents are still in Syria, in the village where she used to live, but it’s been a month since she had any contact with them. The news she does get is from social media—from Facebook—but none of the news is good, for every day brings new images of mutilated children and bombed apartments. The last time she spoke to her parents, they were on the roof of their house, the only place where they had a connection, when the reception started cutting in and out. She heard them say that they could see planes approaching, and then the connection was completely cut. She is sure that they must still be alive, for there are some in her village still able to communicate through Facebook. She knows that the village was bombed again, and many more died, but she is sure that someone would have told her if something had happened to her parents. All she can do, though, is wait, wonder and worry.

Athar is thankful to have be here in Canada and she is grateful for all that she has. She knows it is a gift to live in a place that is secure and safe, but she can’t find any richness in her life while her soul remains in Syria, where there is nothing but suffering. Sleep, for example, is especially hard. When it does come, she has dreams of home and of life the way it used to be. Then, when she wakes up, she is shocked by the reality of what’s happening in Syria. She worries constantly, and jumps at every phone call, sure each time that it is bringing her the news she can’t bear to hear.

“I know that life here is good and nice and sweet, but we can’t feel the sweetness while life in Syria is so bitter.”

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