The Kindness of Strangers:
One family opens their home for the holidays — and in the process, makes another feel welcome in America
by Apryl Eshelman
This year, we had one more thing to be grateful for at Thanksgiving.
My husband, daughter, and I were lucky to host a very special family, who are recent immigrants from Syria: Sadiqa, Jamail and their twelve year old twins, John and Rousteer. We were connected with them by a board member of the Karam Foundation, who approached the Executive Director of the Syrian Community Network. All of this led to a delightful Thanksgiving dinner.
It all started with a posting in our daughter’s school newsletter inviting families to consider hosting an international student from a local university for Thanksgiving dinner. Inspired, our daughter, Lizzie, suggested that we expand this idea and invite a whole family, specifically a Syrian refugee family. What a great idea and what a great opportunity to share our good fortune with others! After all, isn’t this the true embodiment of the Thanksgiving celebration? What we didn’t know at the outset is that, by having Sadiqa, Jamail, and their children to our home, we would be the ones enriched by the experience.
My husband, Ed Chidiac, is himself a first generation Syrian immigrant. He spoke Arabic with his family when he was a small child living in Paterson, NJ. His language skills, however rusty, were certainly in demand, especially during the introductions and initial conversations. Soon, though, we were all chatting with a mixture of Arabic, English, gestures, smiles and laughter. It helped that John and Rousteer are particularly precocious and have developed strong English skills themselves during their first three months as 5th graders at the Old Orchard Elementary School.
It was especially enlightening to hear the family’s perspective on their new life in America, what life was like back in Aleppo ,and then in the Turkish camp, and what they have found most surprising about America as they settle into their Skokie home.
Sadiqa and Jamail are clearly accomplished individuals who are working hard to provide the best for their children, despite the hardships they have endured. They told us about the barrel bomb hitting their five story home in Aleppo and how they ran for their lives. They relayed details of the diaspora of their own siblings, who are now living in Turkey, Germany, Jordan, Denmark, and elsewhere. I was most touched, though, by Sadiqa sharing the photo of her mother, who still lives in Syria. Jamail bragged about Sadiqa passing her written test to get her Illinois driver’s permit, and Rousteer and John agreed that they like math class the best at their new school.
We planned to get together a few days later to grocery shop. This time, Ed was not available to join us, and Rousteer and John were in school. But, even with my Arabic being limited to some of my favorite foods and a few pleasantries, language was not an issue. “Aisle 16” became our joke of the day. After snaking our way through most of the Fresh Farms grocery store, Sadiqa asked if the store sold “sebalah”…at least that is what is sounded like to me, even when I asked Sadiqa to pronounce the word very slowly for me. I approached an employee to ask if they carried “sebalah”. He cheerily replied, “Aisle 16”. It is probably one of those things where you had to be there to see the humor. We sure did, and shared a hearty laugh. “Sebelah”, a powdered drink mix, was added to their grocery cart.
We are looking forward to getting to know this very special family better. I, for one, am especially eager for another cup of Sadiqa’s incredibly delicious Kurdish coffee, and to have her critique my attempt to make yogurt, based on her instructions.
This year, we give thanks for our new friends, Sadiqa, Jamail and their talented kids.