Khelil Ham Sork - Custom Wood Burning
May 23, 2019
Women's Baladi Dance Classes
January 1, 2019
Throwback: Ahmad Meree's Arrival!
December 19, 2018
December 12, 2018
2018 Sponsorship Update
December 10, 2018
Partnering to Help those in Need!
November 19, 2018
November 12, 2018
Welcome to Canada!
April 24, 2018
Arabic language lecture - March 9th, 2017
March 16, 2017
'You are welcome here' TShirts
January 30, 2016
I have always been someone who has been interested in my own family history, as well as the history of
other families. I am well aware that many of my friends and neighbours’ families came to Canada due to
difficult times in their native countries. In my own family history, a distant grandfather left the U.S.
because of the American Revolution.
Both of my father’s grandmothers came to Canada from Ireland in the early 1900s. Both were widows in
their 40s with several children who left in a period of unrest for a better and safer life. I am very thankful
for what Canada has given us.
So what do I have to share with you? I am here to share my experiences as a tourist in Turkey and
Greece and how I came to experience the flight of the refugees.
I am someone who enjoys traveling and what I call wandering- just seeing what the day brings and
taking in the sights of any location at which I happen to be.
This summer I had the privilege of traveling to Turkey and Greece with my daughter. As our vacation
was winding down, we spent several days in the coastal city of Bodrum. It is also the city upon who’s
shores little Alan Kurdi was later discovered lifeless.
As we had seen the major sights of beautiful Bodrum, we thought it we be fun to have a day on a Greek
island. Kos was the closest island and the fare for the boat was affordable and the voyage was only 30
When I travel, I prefer to not stay connected to what is happen at home and around the world. I already
knew that there was a huge exodus from Syria and had twice donated warm clothing to Siba Al-
Khadour’s group which shipped containers of quality clothes to refugees. I knew that people were then
leaving through Turkey by many means, including boats to nearby Greek islands, but I had no idea that
our trip to Kos would land us in the thick of the exodus.
The boat left too early to enjoy breakfast at our hotel, so the first thing we did when we reached the
island was have breakfast by the harbour. The owner of the harbour restaurant was very content to chat
in English with us. He told us that Kos had a refugee “problem” on the island and that a thousand more
people had arrived during the night. Until that point, we never imagined that the several small groups of
young me who had walked past the restaurant were anything but other tourists putting in time.
When we watched them after this, we were aware that these good looking young men with fresh
haircuts were neatly dressed, but wearing clothes that were too loose on them. What was their story?
This newfound awareness was unsettling.
After breakfast, we set off for the Castle of the Knights of St. John, which was to the right of the
restaurant. We had been told vaguely what direction the castle was in and we proceeded to walk up a
set of stairs leading to a park, past several people on the steps who were refugees. At this point we had
only seen one woman entertaining small children, the rest of the people were young men with very few
At the top of the steps was a park with many large trees- what was ahead was unbelievable. On all of
the benches and the surrounding edges of the park, there were masses of people either asleep or
resting. We were shocked.
Now you have to imagine, that behind this park is a tree under which Hippocrates is said to have taught
medicine. One of his beliefs, was that he would take care of his patients in a manner which would not
cause them to suffer hurt or damage. There was a park full of hurting people just feet away.
After one short day on Kos, we tried to think of something we could do and as there were no grocery
stores in the immediate area, we bought a few large, cold water bottles to hand out. We returned to the
shady park and handed out the water. One group initially refused and then later accepted.
As we were leaving, there was a young man in a stripped t-shirt who approached us and asked us where
we were from. I was pleased and embarrassed to say Canada. I had felt early in the crisis that our
country could do better for these people. Earlier in the day, I had tucked 10 Euros into my pocket in case
I saw anyone asking for money on the street. I still had this money and I offered it to this fellow to “buy
his dinner:/ He politely declined saying that he had his own money and that he had been declined
lodging on the island. We couldn’t believe that this was possible. As the time of departure was
approaching, we said our goodbyes and best wishes and shook hands. Several times after, my daughter
and I both agreed that we were sorry that there wasn’t more time to spend with him.
After Kos, we realized that there were refugees in Bodrum too, quietly walking past the massive yachts
and playing with their kids in the park.
Our last Turkish city was Izmir. As we were finding our hotel, we were aware of three men walking into
different hotels and then walking out again not long after. When we checked into our hotel, the same
three men came in after us and asked in English whether the hotel had two rooms available for five
men. They were told “sorry, no”. We had just booked our room the night before for that hotel, and
knew in fact that there were many rooms available at that time.
On the streets of Izmir, we saw life jackets for sale on the side of the sidewalk. Two nights later, we left
Izmir at 3am to fly to Athens and we passed cafes full of people, men walking, and a park full of people
Our last contact with the refugees occurred in Athens. Beautiful Athens is suffering. Business were
closed and there was graffiti everywhere. One hydro post was stencilled with a picture of Paddington
Bear holding his suitcase and it read “Migration is not a crime”.
Our hotel was located across from a large treed park close to a major tourist attraction. It was only when
we returned after dark and encountered many families visiting the fountain by the hotel, did it dawn on
us that people were living in the park. In the morning, our suspicions were confirmed as we were able to
spot many tents.
Both my daughter and I agreed that our holiday held many memories of beauty and hospitality and that
we also had a new responsibility to share what we had witnessed.