Calgary at a Crossroads

Calgary will soon be home to 1,300 Syrian refugees. A family of four arrived Wednesday night and another four families from Iraq are to arrive Thursday.


'When I learn I coming to Canada, I jumping, jumping, jumping. I so happy.' - Zainab Al Qaisi

Real people are behind the stories of fear and refugee camps — people who have come to our city to make new lives.

Bringing with them real hopes and dreams, hobbies and interests.

So, Calgary, here are a few of your new neighbours.


Meet Zainab Al Qaisi

Zainab Al Qaisi

Zainab Al Qaisi, 33, from Baghdad, Iraq wants to improve her English, partly to better understand what Celine Dion is singing about. "I love her music but don't know what she is saying." She says in Calgary she feels like she can do anything. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

Zainab Al Qaisi left Baghdad to escape an abusive husband.

She first headed to Lebanon where she ditched her head scarf and traded it in for stylish ripped jeans and sneakers.

She arrived in Calgary on Nov. 23 with her sister and two nieces.

"When I learn I coming to Canada, I jumping, jumping, jumping. I so happy."

Al Qaisi was a computer science high school teacher in Baghdad, but is practical when it comes to her ambitions in Calgary.

"First I learn better English. Then I will see what jobs there are. Then I will go to college."

Her journey, ambitions and experience:

Al Qaisi recently set out to shop at Winners and was taken aback when a man offered her his not-yet-expired C-Train ticket.

"I think he is going to stealing from me," she says laughing and using the limited English she picked up in Lebanon.

She's getting used to the generosity. But in Calgary she notes, "there are many rules about crossing the street. In Baghdad, you just go."

She wants to get a driver's licence (she drove without one in Baghdad), and wants to start working out at a gym — a luxury she's only ever dreamed of.


Meet the Alromhiens

Claude, Alexandre and Mayssa Alromhien

Claude, two-year-old Alexandre and Mayssa Alromhien arrived from Syria in June. The only thing they miss about Syria is their families. They can find all the Middle Eastern food they want here but 'what's missing is the taste.' (Judy Aldous/CBC)

The Alromhiens have been trying since 2002 to come to Canada, first as immigrants, then finally as refugees.

They arrived on June 22 and are now living in a basement apartment in Marda Loop.

Their journey, ambitions and experience:

In Damascus, they had a thriving salon and Mayssa was especially sought after for her laser hair removal skills.

'We find more humanity here than in Arab nations' - Claude Alromhien

She travelled all over the Middle East training people in her field.

She is blond, a testament to her husband's hair-dyeing skills.

They hope someday to return to the beauty world for work.

"We find more humanity here than in Arab nations," says Claude through a translator.


Meet the Hashims

Rasool Hashim

Rasool Hashim, 37, lost his legs when a bomb went off in his car in Baghdad. He came to Calgary so his kids can get educated, and then can give something back to Canada. 'This country saved our lives,' he said. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

The Hashim family followed the well-travelled path from Baghdad to Turkey.

They arrived in Calgary six weeks ago.

It's taken awhile to find accessible housing for Rasool, who's in a wheelchair, but they're moving into the main floor of a house in the Temple neighbourhood this week.

A volunteer made Rasool a wheelchair ramp.

Their journey, ambitions and experience:

Rasool fixed computers in Baghdad, specializing in Word and Excel, before losing his legs.

 'Calgary is too cold, has no dust and is very beautiful.' - 11-year-old Mohammed Hashim

The three older kids will soon have their English tested and then go to school.

Parents Rasool and Suhad Al-Ali insist they want to work and not just take hand-outs.

Eleven-year-old Mohammed loves to play the game "chicken" on his tablet and is starting to use his "learn English" app. He says Calgary is too cold, has no dust and is very beautiful.


CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.