Where are you from?
What made you decide to move?
Mohammed: I came to study to get my PHD in mechanical engineering from Windsor, Ontario. Initially we didn’t have the intention to emigrate. We were going to get the degree and go back. Azza came two months later with the two kids.
Was it a difficult decision? What was the most difficult part about leaving?
Azza: At first I would cry and fight and I wanted to go home but later I appreciated that we stayed.
Mohammed: We were actually already here and we applied for Permanent Residence while I was studying. We went back to Egypt for a bit, but we realized that it wasn’t for us and we collectively decided to come back to Canada and stay here.
What was it like when you first arrived?
Mohammed: I remember quite vividly the first month after I came, one night I was sitting on the floor in this empty apartment, I had nothing, basic furniture and that’s it. And I reflected on what I did to myself. I said to myself, why did I leave my country, my wife and kids? I had a decent job, my own apartment, a car, a private business and my family back at home.
I kind of left everything just to get here, to commit to getting a different degree. I felt like I made a wrong move and I had a feeling that I wanted to go back. But I was very determined to study outside of Egypt. And I wanted to go out there to see and learn different things so that’s what kept me going through the struggle.
The beginning of the first year was very difficult for me and for Azza because we didn’t know English very well. It was difficult for us to study in a different language, deal with different people and live in a different environment. The adjustment was very difficult.
What have been your biggest challenges?
Mohammed: After the first year it started to become easier. The only thing that was difficult still is the financial aspect, because my salary as an international student was not great. And we had family, two kids. So it was difficult until we changed our status to immigrants, then we started getting some help from the government in terms of a loan, etc. And that helped in making things easier for us to stay and live a decent life.
Azza: There was a bit of struggle because I left my mother, my two sisters, my friends, everything we had. I had an apartment, owned a car, we had a servant to help clean and do everything. And then I was doing everything by myself here. When I was cleaning the bathroom I was crying. But this feeling went away with time.
Can you think of the times when you have felt un-welcomed as an immigrant?
Mohammed: For me, the thing that comes up from my memory is this issue when we applied for immigration we had some delay in the processing of the documents. We had a lot of friends who applied around the same time and their applications were processed and they got their permanent resident status already. And for us, it was an important step. So I was really anxious to get this done because it would help to support my family. And it will have a significant impact on the quality of our life.
The immigration system doesn’t give you much information about what’s going on, they just say it’s still in progress and you just have to wait.
Azza: There are incidents, like at the cashier when they see your colored skin or a hijab, their tone of voice and attitude changes.
Mohammed: If I notice this kind of mistreatment, I don’t let it go and I respond immediately. I just say that this is not an acceptable treatment and I demand an apology.
What is the thing you are proudest of so far and why?
Azza: I’m very proud of my husband and his achievements. He did everything for us. When you see how we started here and where we are now, he worked very very hard to get here.
Mohammed: If you’re happy at home, you can achieve anything or you can do many things. This is at the root of the success and everything that I was able to achieve, and all thanks to a very good relationship at the household level.
The support is there and when I see my kids now raising their kids, I really appreciate my wife a lot because at the time when she was looking after the four kids, most of the time I was not there, I was working 90% of the time. I wasn’t seeing how much struggle and how much effort she put into our family, from delivering the kids to raising them. This is not easy, and also being able to maintain a good supporting environment for me to free up my mind and focus on what I’m doing. She gets all the credit not me.
Azza: I am proud of my kids, the people they turned out to be, each one of them.
What are some of the things about home that bring you the feeling of nostalgia?
Mohammed: We have always put a lot of effort into preserving our identity because we think it is very important to remember and cherish your roots, while also adapting to the new life in a foreign country.
Azza: I never gave up on teaching my kids Arabic, they used to go to a special school on the weekends to learn the language and as a result they all know it very well.
Are there any traditions/ rituals you still maintain? (holidays, foods, habits)
Mohammed: When we first came here we got Arabic TV. It wasn’t even that much about the programs, it was just familiar speech playing on the background.
Together: Ramadan and the cookies that we do at the festival. We have a special type of cookie that we used to do. There’s a moon shaped one and there is a closed butter cookie filled with nuts and dates.
Mohammed: My mother used to do this at the end of Ramadan before the breakfast feast. And her mother used to do the same at her place. When we came here I wanted the tradition to continue. So at the end of Ramadan we would do it at home as a family.
Azza: When I was making this back then in London, Ontario when he was getting his Ph.D. And we gather with the Egyptian community on the day of Eid, my friends went nuts about my cooking.
We did it as a family with my kids and now, the oldest daughter is continuing the tradition with her kids.
Is there something you wish people knew more about immigrants?
Mohammed: People have to understand that immigrants are not someone who’s coming to invade the country or who’s coming to take my job or take my place, take my my food. Now they have to understand that Canada is based on immigration and it will continue to be based on immigration to fuel the future. Every single year we have at least half a million or 400 thousand immigrants admitted, and those people are the cream of the crop because Canada chooses the best of the best to welcome into the country.
Like in agriculture, for example, the farmer doesn’t take the seeds from the same land year after year because the genetics of the crop will start to deteriorate. He has to bring seeds from a foreign land to mix the genetics and make the crops stronger. I look at the migrants as that. Immigrants bringing new ideas, abilities and knowledge and we are benefiting as a society from them. We should appreciate them and support them as much as we can.
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