Home thoughts: How this new Islander will link up with family in Lebanon

For Islanders with farflung relatives, this Christmas season will mean many phone calls, zoom chats and other ways to keep the love alive. Rony Skaff, who's been on P.E.I. sice 2008, shares his plans. What are yours?

Connecting with farflung loved ones has never been so technologically easy or emotionally hard

Rony Skaff moved to Prince Edward Island in 2018, and is part of the team ensuring the Island’s health care workers have the personal protective equipment they need. (Submitted by Rony Skaff)

Rony Skaff had this holiday season all planned out. His mother, sister and her family would join him in Charlottetown immigrating from Lebanon. His girlfriend, who he met and fell in love with virtually, would be wearing an engagement ring. But then came COVID-19.

"I was planning to travel to Lebanon around summer and I just postponed that," said Skaff, who moved to P.E.I. in 2018.  "So I just postponed that to December. And then I wanted to book my flight in around, like, the second week of November."

This year, like many of us, Rony won't be home for Christmas — and the pandemic has stopped his plan to make a home here on Prince Edward Island for him and his family.

The plan was to be back in Lebanon for the holidays and bring his mom, who suffers from heart disease and has barely been outside since the spring, back to Canada under one of the family reunification programs. Then he checked the airline websites. 

"And it was $12,000 for that … for the 21-hour flight."

For Island residents with farflung relatives, this Christmas season will mean many phone calls, Zoom chats and other ways to keep the love alive. What are yours? Email ...

Ups and downs in 2020

Skaff has seen both sides of the pandemic. 

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Rony Skaff's mother (second from right, shown with his sisters) from visiting P.E.I. earlier this year. (Submitted by Rony Skaff)

It has given him work; he is part of the team ensuring the Island's health care workers have the personal protective equipment they need.

At the same time he finished his masters at UPEI this spring without a chance to walk the stage and receive his diploma. Mom was supposed to be here to watch.

"I booked her a flight to travel to Charlottetown, but unfortunately that was just like a month before COVID and her flight was booked on April 20, 2020." 

Now he hopes February 2021, the fourth attempt to bring his mother to her new home on PEI, may be the charm. 

Lebanon's economic crisis is adding urgency to Skaff's plans. Prices have risen dramatically, and one of the sisters he wants to bring to Canada is raising a family on her husband's monthly retirement pension, which has lost most of its value since the devastating explosion in Beirut on August 4.

The local church, First Baptist, helped bring a sister and her family to P.E.I. several years ago. Even in this year of COVID-19, the church has been raising money to bring Skaff's nephew here, which will provide the opening for his sister and the rest of her family to come to the province eventually. 

Rony Skaff would like to propose to his girlfriend Fabiana, but says they both would prefer for that step to happen in person. So they will wait. (Submitted by Rony Skaff)

Over the weekend the church will be cooking up four turkeys, peeling 65 pounds of potatoes and the trimmings for a takeout dinner. That should finish this year's fundraising for what will be a multiyear effort to bring everyone to Canada.

Over the holiday season, Skaff will gather with his sister and her family here on the Island and let technology take care of the rest.  

"We are very fortunate that we are living in a world with technology and just like making distances so close." Skaff said. "So we're going to have, definitely, have them on video call on Christmas Eve."

There'll be more video chats with his girlfriend, Fabiana. They both know they want to get married, and he's ready to ask.

But it won't be through a screen; it will be in person, whenever COVID finally allows. 

"I prefer that and she prefers that as well," said Skaff.

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Mitch Cormier is the host of Island Morning on CBC Radio in Charlottetown. Email: Twitter: @mitchcormierCBC