KELOWNA – Like most Canadians, Mohammed and his wife love their coffee.
“We drink (coffee) every day,” he says. “When I wake, I wash my face and I take coffee.”
Unlike most Canadians however, Mohammed Al-Shahoud, 53, doesn’t get his morning fix from Tim Hortons. His coffee, called kahvesi, is thick and unfiltered. The beans are roasted and finely ground, boiled in a pot and served with a small layer of grounds at the bottom of the cup. A bag of Syrian coffee and some small, heart-shaped mugs are some of the very few items he was able to bring with him when he and his family came to Kelowna from Homse, Syria in July.
Homse was the first city bombed by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad when the Arab Spring uprising started to spread.
“It was not war but not safe,” he says. “There are protests and it is very dangerous always.”
Six months ago, the Central Okanagan Refugee Committee sponsored Mohammed, his wife Sara and five of their 11 children to come from Jordan, where they were seeking refuge from the instability in Syria’s third largest city.
In Syria, Mohammed was a successful sheep dealer in his family business. He had a large house that was burned down after he left and all they were able to bring with them was some personal items, clothing, some blankets and their coffee set.
But still he doesn’t complain. He now works three afternoons a week washing cars for a local car dealership and would work more if it weren’t for the terms of his visa.
Mohammed’s five youngest kids, who are all between the ages of nine and 18, are attending school and learning English. He recently had to have most of his teeth removed and is being treated for a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Their home, which, along with all the furnishings, were donated by members of three churches in Kelowna and Lake Country.
“There is nothing difficult here (in Canada),” he says. “We are very happy.”
Mohammed says he and his family have been overwhelmed with the hospitality he has received from locals, and they are all making friends. He’s even getting used to grocery store coffee.
“I looked Kelowna up on Google and it said it was very warm, which is good because I don’t like the cold,” he says. “The internet said it was very beautiful and now I think it is the most beautiful city in Canada.”
Now the Committee is working to bring the rest of Mohammed’s family over from Lebanon and Jordan, where they emigrated when the threat of civil war became too great.
“Their lives are (still) very difficult,” he says. “They cannot work. I am very sad for them.”
According to the latest data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 4 million Syrian refugees have fled their country since the outbreak of civil war in 2012. About 2,000 have drowned trying to reach Europe since 2011 and half of Syria's 23 million populace have either fled or been displaced.
So far Canada has admitted 2,374 Syrian refugees through government assisted and privately sponsored refugee programs with plans to bring 10,000 more.
The Committee is holding a fundraising dinner Sep. 26. Although tickets have already sold out, they are looking for volunteers to help in the kitchen as well as donated items for a silent auction.
For more information call Rick Potter at 250-765-5141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at email@example.com or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-2724.