While I briefly met the Al Cheblis at a potluck dinner, I actually haven’t been able to spend any quality time with them or show them part of the city. On the weekend my family showed them one of our favourite spots in the east end: the Beach.
When we arrived to pick them up, the temperature outside was just above freezing and yet the kids were excitedly throwing on runners with no socks! I asked about snow pants and we encountered our first ‘lost in translation’ moment as they interpreted my miming as boots. Then a couple of the kids tried to put the boots on with no socks! While we never seemed to land on the same page with snow pants, the kids all left outfitted with boots and hats, and gloves in a bag.
Once on the Main Street bus, I attempted to explain the concept of the winter stations to the father Mohamed, which is not an easy concept to convey or mime. We exited the bus and headed toward the beach, with our preschooler bouncing ahead excitedly. The Al Chebli kids still seemed a little cautious until they caught sight of the water. Then they started to shout with excitement. Younes (nine) and Chebli (seven) started moving faster to catch up to our son. When we crossed the last street, the boys were off. Khadija, the five-year-old girl, started talking animatedly. Mohamed translated that she wanted to go swimming. My husband said it was often too cold in the summer!
We stood by the Leuty lifeguard station for a while as the kids took in the big waves and the younger kids threw rocks into the water. We walked west along the boardwalk, making several stops along the way so that the boys could venture closer and closer to the water, squealing as they ran from the waves. I got a little nervous seeing Younes’ shorter boots, but it was my own kid who tripped and fell in the water. Luckily he was wearing snow pants and the only real damage was wet socks. Minutes later Younes’ slipped on a wet rock (my husband’s warning about wet rocks was lost in translation), leaving him with wet pants, but his mood wasn’t dampened for long.
Finally we made it to our favourite winter station, In the Belly of a Bear (not a coincidence that it’s the warmest one). We all climbed up and found we had the place to ourselves. I once again attempted to explain the winter stations to Mohamed, except this time I enlisted the help of the Google Translate app to repeat what I had mentioned on the bus. Mohamed seemed to understand. We snacked on some cookies that I made, as maintaining blood sugar levels are an essential part of any trip planning with children – especially when they outnumber the adults!
After hitting the playground, we headed home on the bus. We had it to ourselves for part of the journey, which all the kids thought was hilarious. After exiting the streetcar near their apartment, Mohamed asked us up. Even though I anticipated such an invitation after hearing about our co-chairs’ visits, I was still so blown away by their hospitality and generosity. We were occupied with the kids as Mohamed slipped out and returned with a box of Oreo cookies to go with the sweet tea. Knowing how tight money is, we felt horrible that he had spent precious dollars on us. But as much as they are a humble family, they are also quite proud and clearly wanted to treat us. Our preschooler enjoyed his first-ever Oreo (and second through fifth), while Ilham, the mother, tried to steal cuddles with our one-year-old boy.
Their girls stood out at home: Amal, the eldest for eagerly reading aloud the few board books they had so she could practice her English; she beamed when she got the pronunciation right the second time round. Hearing her also reminded us how hard English is to learn as a second language. The youngest cornered my husband on the couch for a pseudo game of UNO. When her brother, Chebli, tried to join in, she would promptly bump him out of the way or into the corner! She is truly the most fearless five-year-old kid I have ever met!
I had a really fun morning and hope the Al Cheblis did too, once they warmed up! Now I have one hundred or so questions swirling around in my head about how the family is doing and how we can better support them (the co-chairs and a few organizing committee members have been doing the heavy lifting getting the family settled). Overall though I cannot get over how impossibly small that apartment is for four children and two adults, and yet how immaculate it was and how happy the Al Cheblis were to host us. I also know that I need to do more to help this amazing family succeed, so I will be channeling those swirling questions into ideas as best I can.