"I am eating a falafel," he says slowly.
"Yes! That's right. Okay, now what about the past...yesterday."
He thinks for a minute: "I was eat a falafel."
"No...I ate a falafel. Or I was eating a falafel."
He throws up his hands. "Am...was...are...will be...eat...ate...English!"
I am sitting at my new Syrian friend's kitchen table, after a delightful meal of falafel sandwiches, and we are practising English. Like so many other aspects of introducing this new family to Canada and Victoria, I'm seeing my take-it-for-granted world through new eyes. English is a devilishly complex and often illogical language. And when I compare their progress, compared to my pitiful dozen words of Arabic, I'm more than impressed.
The family we are supporting has been here now for just over three months. All are stringing more words together in sentences. We're not whipping out Google Translate as often. They are attending language classes five--and sometimes seven--days a week. As expected, the three children are progressing in leaps and bounds at school, often helping their parents over a language hurdle.
And language is only one of many, many new challenges for these brave people. They have never had a bank account before--now they've learned our currency, how to run a bank machine and pay bills on line. How to separate recycling materials. Which bus to take. What organic food is. What's junk mail and what's not. How it feels to have your mouth frozen at the dentist. And so many more!
It isn't all work, though. Our group has shared some of the local beauty of our city, often helped by donations. Butterfly World and Butchart Gardens have both donated tickets. We've wandered around in Beacon Hill Park and a few beaches, experiencing spring in Victoria.
And throughout this three months, like a warm background melody, the generosity of people has touched both the family and our support group. The Optimist Club donated bicycles for the two boys. A teacher donated soccer equipment. The Root Cellar came forward with a large gift certificate (as did several other stores). The family is eager to start growing food, aided by garden tools, seeds and bedding plants that were donated.
Makes me proud to be a Canadian.
Our process of identifying, bringing to Victoria, settling and supporting a family has a lot of moving parts! Our group is learning lots as we go. We will keep our friends and contributors up-to-date as we go.