In December 2003, my husband and I met three exhausted Afghan teenagers in the
arrivals area at the Winnipeg airport.
As their first hosts in Canada, we picked Khatera and her brothers up at the airport and took them to our home where they stayed for 10 days until their apartment was ready.
Their parents’ death in a bombing 10 years earlier had left them orphaned as children in Afghanistan. After a move to Pakistan, and through the help of a friend, they were able to achieve refugee status to come to Canada.
During their brief stay with us, we were able to introduce them to ice skating, jam for breakfast, decorating cookies, playing ping-pong, and playing piano and recorder.
They told us stories about weaving carpets, working in the vegetable market, and learning to read and write in Dari.
After staying with us, Khatera and her brothers moved into an apartment where they very quickly learned not only how to survive but to thrive in their new country.
Barely two weeks into their own apartment, they invited us for dinner. They cooked a festive pilau to perfection in a pot Khatera had brought along in her suitcase all the way from Pakistan. She had been told that we don’t have pots like that in Canada.
We don’t, because no one cooks rice like Khatera using that magic pot.
Khatera and her brothers learned how to get around on the bus, go grocery shopping, and with the help of the church that sponsored them, they enrolled in high school and adult education.
Although they had never attended a formal school, they all graduated with their age groups.
We have kept in touch with the Khatera and her brothers through the years and marvel at their resilience and perseverance. After high school, Khatera worked in the fast food industry to pay rent while she went to university part time.
When she connected with a friend in Pakistan who proposed marriage, she travelled to Pakistan to get married. Marriage and, later, a new son did not deter her from continuing her education. In the fall of 2012, nine years after she came to Canada, she graduated with a human resources diploma from the University of Winnipeg and soon after procured employment as an administrative assistant at an accounting firm.
Khatera and her family lived in an apartment in our neighbourhood for a few years and she and her husband recently bought their first house.
We stand on the sidelines and cheer at all the new milestones that she has achieved in her new life in Canada.
Knowing Khatera, her husband, her brothers, and their friends, all ambitious people that contribute to making Canada a better country, have enriched our lives.