Faces of our Middle Eastern community


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(imageTag)Wajih 'Moe' Zeid He came to Winnipeg from Palestine in 1967. He now owns four local Foodfare stores and the former Chicken Delight at Corydon Avenue and Stafford Street, which is leased to Harvey's. His first impression of Winnipeg? "I wasn't equipped for winter. I thought 'Oh my God, what did I do?' " He decided he had a return ticket and if he didn't want to stay, he could call it a holiday, then go back. "I will give it a chance."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/05/2012 (3728 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg Free Press
Wajih ‘Mo’ Zeid

Wajih ‘Moe’ Zeid

He came to Winnipeg from Palestine in 1967. He now owns four local Foodfare stores and the former Chicken Delight at Corydon Avenue and Stafford Street, which is leased to Harvey’s. His first impression of Winnipeg? “I wasn’t equipped for winter. I thought ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’ ” He decided he had a return ticket and if he didn’t want to stay, he could call it a holiday, then go back. “I will give it a chance.”


Zahra Moussavi

Zahra Moussavi

She came from Iran with her two children and went to Calgary. While she could read English, she couldn’t speak it very well. She came to study at the University of Manitoba and was hired there in 1999. She is now a professor and the Canada Research Chair in the electrical and computer engineering department at the U of M. She also is working to set up a neuro-diagnostic and treatment centre for dementia at the Riverview Health Centre. First impression of Winnipeg? “Hell doesn’t have to be made of fire. As a poor PhD student, I walked every day. I came in September 1993, and it was one of the coldest winters. I had a 15-minute walk, I never took the bus, and it was so cold. But Winnipeg, and Manitoba in general, people all come back. I tried to escape two times, but both times I came back. I really like the people and I like the greenery.”


Albert El Tassi

Ariana Yaftali

She and her family left Afghanistan in 1980 and were exiled in Pakistan. She applied as a refugee at the Canadian embassy and was approved to come to Canada in 2002, with Winnipeg their destination. She is now the local co-ordinator of Women for Afghanistan. She is also co-founder of the Afghan-Canadian Women’s Organization, the chairwoman of the Entry Program — Altered Minds Inc., and vice-chairwoman of the local Winnipeg chapter of the UN Women. She wrote the book We Did It, a collection of experiences of refugees. First impression of Winnipeg? “I came here by choice because one of the teachers in my English class was from Winnipeg. So other than Toronto and Vancouver, I knew there was another city in Canada. It was faster to apply to come here than the other cities, too. It’s a smaller place than the other cities, but it is good. There is less hustle and bustle. My first May I remember vividly. There was a snowfall for a week, but we were so excited to be here, we didn’t feel the intensity of cold.”


Nahlah Ayed

Abdo (Albert) Ibrahim El Tassi

He came to Winnipeg from Lebanon in 1969. He was a teacher and principal in Lebanon, but he came here with his mother to join some of his family. His brother helped him get a job at Peerless Garments, where he began work loading trucks in the shipping department. Six months later, he was in charge of the company’s leather division, and he became its president and CEO in 2006. He is past president of the Manitoba Islamic Association, founder of Winnipeg’s Muslim Mosque and has sat on the boards of numerous charities and organizations. He has been inducted into the Order of Manitoba and the Order of Canada. First impression of Winnipeg? “It’s a beautiful city. I wouldn’t trade Winnipeg for the world. My children and grandchildren live here. It was a long journey and a very interesting and very beautiful journey. I don’t regret anything.”


Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press
Yaniv Birenboim

Nahlah Ayed

She was born in Winnipeg and her family is of Palestinian descent. When she was six, her parents, fearing their children were losing their cultural identity, moved to a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan for seven years. The family eventually returned to Winnipeg, and later she went to the University of Manitoba, then earned a journalism degree at Carleton University. She was hired by the CBC in 2002 and was working in Baghdad before and after the city fell during the Gulf War. Her coverage earned her a nomination for a Gemini Award and an honourary degree of doctor of laws from the University of Manitoba. Her first book, A Thousand Farewells: A Reporter’s Journey from Refugee Camp to the Arab Spring, was published this spring.


Jude Kasas

He was born in Syria in 1979, and raised in that country and Saudi Arabia. He came to Canada in 1999 and relocated to Winnipeg from Vancouver when he enrolled at the University of Winnipeg in 2001. He has lived here ever since. He is the spokesman for the Syrian Assembly of Manitoba. First impression of Winnipeg? “It was a bit more of a simple city than Vancouver, but what I liked is the social life. Here, because it is smaller, I meet people from all over the place. The size of this city was ideal for me… and the summer life in Winnipeg is pretty awesome.”


Lotfollah Shafai

Yaniv Birenboim

He was born in Israel and married his wife, who was originally from Russia, there. Two years ago, they came to Winnipeg because they were worried about the safety of their new baby living in the northern part of the country near Syria and Lebanon. He and his wife had an organic cosmetics company there and are starting it up here. First impression of Winnipeg? “We visited Canada, and we fell in love with Winnipeg the first few hours we were here. It is a big city with everything a big city offers, but the people are friendly like they are in the country. You don’t feel the rush or pressure like in the big city. It’s what we were looking for — something very peaceful.”


Kourosh Doustshenas

Lotfollah Shafai

He came to Canada in 1964 from Iran. He did his graduate studies at the University of Toronto and was offered a job in the engineering department at the University of Manitoba in 1969. He designed the “suitcase transceiver” used by journalists with CNN and other news agencies to report live inside war zones. He was honoured last year with the Killam Prize, taking the $100,000 in prize money and putting it into an endowment fund for students’ bursaries. First impression of Winnipeg? “My son was just a few months old, and a person I knew from Winnipeg said, ‘You will freeze your ears and nose there.’ So my wife said, ‘We can’t take our son there.’ So I came here by myself for a year. Don Duguid became curling champion so I got interested and did curling. People were exceptionally kind here. Toronto’s a big city so you don’t know who is who. Obviously my first impression was good, or I wouldn’t have stayed. Winnipeg is the best-kept secret in Canada.”


Kourosh Doustshenas

Originally from Iran, he came to Ottawa in 1989 from India, where he had been living and working for about a decade. From there, he came to Winnipeg. He is past president, director and a founding member of the Iranian Community of Manitoba, chairman of the organization’s elections committee and a member of the Manitoba Ethnocultural Advisory and Advocacy Council. His first job was with immigration services and then with the National Research Council. After he was laid off, he trained in real estate and is now a real estate broker who owns Expert Real Estate Services. First impression of Winnipeg? “They said, ‘Winnipeg is in the middle of Canada so you’ll be close to everything.’ I had absolutely no idea how far everything was. But they said, ‘Winnipeg is a nice place, and you should be able to find a job’ and that’s true. I really love this city and didn’t look to go anywhere else.”


Hani Al-Ubeady

From Baghdad, he is a housing counsellor at Welcome Place. First impression of Winnipeg? “I left Iraq as a teenager, and my family has great respect for the West. I didn’t have the culture shock of what I was getting into because I was spiritually prepared. The West is the best part in the world. We have a sense of pride that we belong here.”


Rahim Taghikhani

He came to Winnipeg from Iran in 2009 to go to the University of Manitoba. He is now president of the Iranian Students Association at the university. First impression of Winnipeg? “It is a good city. It is calm and people are nice. There are 3,000 Iranians in the city and around 400 at the University of Manitoba. When I first came here, it wasn’t cold. But after 20 days, it started snowing. It snows in Iran, but not like here — the average temperature there in winter is minus 5 degrees Celsius.”


Safwan Makarem

He is from Syria and came to Winnipeg in 2003. He owns the Ameera Beauty Salon on Main Street. First impression of Winnipeg? “It was really good because we enjoyed a couple of months of summer — and then it started to get cold. My wife, who is from Winnipeg, said we should go buy me a winter jacket. I said, ‘I have two here, which I used in Syria,’ but she said, ‘no, you will see they are not enough.’ She was right. But I am used to the cold now.”


Madi Aboumrad

He is from Lebanon but left that country in 1979, and moved to London, Ont. He came to Winnipeg eight years ago and opened the Baraka Pita Bakery and Mediterranean Deli on Main Street, a family-owned business like another one in Calgary. He has since purchased an oven in Lebanon and installed it in his Winnipeg shop. First impression of Winnipeg? “All of Canada is similar, but the people of Winnipeg are so kind and friendly. People support small businesses here, too.”


Shaahin Filizadeh

He received his degrees in electrical engineering at Iran’s Sharif University of Technology before coming to the University of Manitoba where he received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 2004. He is now an associate professor with the university’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and specializes in electric power systems, power electronics and hybrid and electric vehicles. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and past chairman of the Winnipeg chapter of IEEE’s Power and Energy Society.


Rawia Azzahrawi

She is from Kuwait and lived in Buffalo, N.Y., and Regina before coming to Winnipeg where she is an Arabic language instructor. She has a master’s degree in Arabic language and literature and is the creator of the glossy magazine, Sindibad. It features puzzles and games, interviews with kids, articles on Islamic history and different cultures around the world.


Sabah Aisawi

She is from Saudi Arabia. She joined the University of Winnipeg as a visiting research fellow in February. She was the first woman to get a Ph.D. in children’s literature in Saudi Arabia, and she is researching cultural diversity and the portrayal of disability in children’s literature. After she ends her time as a visiting research fellow, she will continue to consult with U of W faculty who teach in the field of young people’s texts and cultures.


Khodr Shamseddine

He graduated from the American University of Beirut with a B.Sc. in physics in 1988. He received his master’s in physics and Ph.D. in physics and mathematics at Michigan State University. He came to the University of Manitoba in 2008 as an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and also became an adjunct professor in the Department of Mathematics last year. He continues to be an associate at the Center for Advanced Mathematical Sciences at the American University of Beirut.


Nariman Sepehri

From Iran, he received his bachelor of science degree in Iran and his master’s and Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia. He is the University of Manitoba’s associate dean of engineering. His research specializes in robotics.


Dr. Ahmed Khalil

He is from Lebanon, but he left in 1980 and lived in Europe for about 11 years where he went to medical school and did his surgical residency in Bulgaria. He then moved to Montreal. He is now a cardiac surgeon at St. Boniface General Hospital. First impression of Winnipeg? “I came because they (St. Boniface) wanted me. I was a little bit skeptical moving here from Montreal. But I said let me see it. I came in May, and it was so hot and dry. It made such a nice impression I thought, yes, I would come here. Winter everywhere is the same. It’s probably a bit colder than Montreal, but I prefer the dry cold than all the snow in Montreal.”


Christodoulos K. Christodoulides

He was born in Cyprus in 1936, fought with the Hellenic Association of Cypriot Fighters battling the British in 1955 until their expulsion in 1958. He worked in Cyprus until coming to Canada in 1974, after Turkey invaded. He went to the University of Winnipeg, worked in real estate and owned a Mac’s Convenience store. He was president of the Cypriot Association of Manitoba for more than 10 years and was vice-president of the Cypriot Federation of Canada. He died in 2000.


— Compiled by Kevin Rollason

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