I had a dream the other night that I was staying in a huge and beautiful hotel. It had several pools, massive rooms filled with antique furniture, many little alcoves in the very wind hallways for people to sit and talk, and just a general sense of opulence and space and comfort. I was enjoying myself with my husband and my friends and then I looked out the window and saw that it was night time and there were hundreds of Syrian refugees standing outside in the cold. They wanted to come in to the hotel but there were police barricades there and the hotel owners were refusing to let them in. I started shouting that they should let them in. There was plenty of space, empty rooms, they could even stay in the little alcoves, they just needed a space to come in from the cold and the dark. I woke up feeling very sad.
The other day I had a great conversation with my students. This is probably what sparked that dream the other night. It started off with me asking if any of them had watched the swearing in ceremony of Justin Trudeau, our new Prime Minister, and his new cabinet. Some had and they started talking about all the things that they had enjoyed about the ceremony, like the fact that there were equal men and women, the fact that, like our classroom, the cabinet is more multicultural and diverse than ever. They talked about having an astronaut as the transport minister (how cool is that!) and that there was a woman from Afghanistan.
Another student brought up that our new Prime Minister has pledged to bring 25 000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of this year. They thought this was great. A few of my students come from countries where war was a fairly constant part of their existence. They asked questions about why so many Syrians wanted to leave their country and I answered as best as I could, telling them about the famines and civil unrest. I told them that we had been told that we would probably get some refugee children in our school this year, but not in our class because it’s already full, but that I knew our class would be very helpful. They talked about all the ways they could help, teaching the new students where things were in the school, how we do things, how to bundle up when it’s cold out because they won’t be used to our icy temperatures. My new students from Iran were sad because they will have missed Halloween, something that they really enjoyed this year, but hoped that they would be here for Christmas because that sounds like fun. (my students are awesome)
I told them that these students probably won’t speak English so we’ll have to help them as much as possible. They asked what language they would speak and I said I didn’t know honestly. A few said they thought that Syrians speak Arabic and a few of my students also speak Arabic, though there are different dialects so it may not be the exact same but they would help as much as they could.
My students come from many different countries. Some were born in Canada and some were not. Some speak English at home and some do not. Some come from cultures and religions that have been at war with each other. I have Jewish and Muslim and Christian students in my class but that doesn’t matter in our classroom community. We accept that we’re all different and that we’re all learning and we all help each other. My classroom is like a little microcosm of what I think Canada as a whole should be; welcoming of anyone who wants to come and learn and help and be helped.
Sometimes my dreams don’t make any sense. They’re just a tangled mess of images and ideas and silliness. I think the symbolism in my dream from the other night is pretty clear. Canada is the big huge hotel with lots of space and comfort. We have plenty of room, more than enough for anyone who needs to come in from the cold. I know that it’s not that simple. We need safe places for them to stay, food, shelter, clothing, mental health services, health care. I know it won’t be easy, but I do feel that it’s necessary when we have so much, that we share with those who have none.