(Ahmed Danny Ramadan and his best friend Rory, shown from behind so as not to endanger Rory who is now a refugee in Turkey, walk down a street in Beirut, Lebanon, in August 2014./Photo courtesy of Ahmed Danny Ramadan)
I’m writing this article on the eve of Sept 9, which marks our one-year anniversary of arriving here in Canada — a day that my boyfriend and I officially call our Cana-versary.
One year, six hours and 22 minutes ago, we saw Vancouver from the skies for the first time. Restless, I couldn’t stay in my seat in the airplane despite the repeated warnings of the flight crew and the glimmering lights of the “fasten your belt” sign.
We merged out of the airplane with a tune in our steps; we almost ran to the social worker standing at the other side of the arrival hall, carrying a sign with our names. He greeted us with a smile, and promised us an easy trip across the airport. We didn’t realize it at the moment, as we were overwhelmed with the reality that every single thing around us was brand new to our eyes, but the year ahead of us would be one that challenged our determination, our sense of self and every aspect of our personalities.
In that airport, while running from one office to the next, and signing an endless stream of papers, I remember pulling out my mobile, hooking up to the free Wi-Fi, and typing a message to Rory, my best friend, telling her that we made it. She sent me an emoticon of a kiss.
Let’s talk numbers for a second: At the moment, and after four years of civil war and terrorism, there are about six million Syrian refugees displaced around the world. The neighbouring countries of Syria, namely Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, host about five million Syrian refugees. Canada has opened its doors to a whopping number of 3,200 Syrian refugees, only 72 of which are in British Columbia.
Out of those 72, and to my knowledge and without assumptions, there are five Syrian refugees who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans. I want you to take a moment to realize how small that number is in reference to the total number of Syrian refugees.
I want you to think about the double-layered threat that LGBT Syrian refugees around the world face: identifying as a sexual minority within a homophobic community, faced by a civil war, then becoming refugees in communities that are equally homophobic.
Except for us five.
Among all of those refugees across the Middle East, my best friend Rory is lost: a single lesbian woman living on her own between Lebanon and Turkey. She waits endlessly for a way out, without a hope on the horizon.
When we landed in Canada, our story didn’t end: our struggles continued. My partner and I struggled to find meaningful work, we struggled to get a sense of understanding of our new community, and we were challenged by all the different cultural and intersectional changes we needed to go through.
Like lost puppies, we stood in the corner of dark bars trying to open conversations with strangers, trying to find friends, hoping to build a community. But we just felt completely detached from the community around us.
We were the strangers, the newbies, and the ones unable to integrate: We blamed it on cultural difference, on our command of English, on our skin tone and on the privileges many feel entitled to.
Whenever I felt overwhelmed, unable to fight anymore to establish myself, I rushed home to my laptop screen, typed a couple of words to Rory, my beautiful best friend, and she would jump to Skype in seconds to talk me out of my darkest thoughts.
Rory and I met back in 2012. Strangely, our first meeting happened on her birthday, which is also Sept 9. She was celebrating her birthday at a table nearby ours in a tiny café in Beirut. Her laughter echoed through the café, and we kept looking back at her every now and then until she invited us to join her table of friends.
She danced that night on top of tables, we played Truth or Dare, and by the end of the night, we were drinking in my house with her friends. We were laughing, having pure, sweet fun, and maybe for the first time in a year, we didn’t feel like refugees anymore.
Those evenings became our ritual: in the morning, she would go to work at a local NGO, where she would support other Syrian refugees, while I stayed home working for the Washington Post, writing articles about the crisis in Syria. By the evening, when both of us were drained, she would join us in our home in Beirut, where we would recharge our batteries with funny videos on YouTube while hoping for a better tomorrow.
A year has passed since I last saw my best friend. We left on her birthday; since we left, she was forced to leave Lebanon by local authorities, and ended up in Turkey.
We have slowly built our own community here, picking and choosing friends. My partner and I found meaningful work and we feel well established. The only missing connection is that we truly, really, miss our best friend. She is in need for our help, our support and our love.
That’s why we decided to pay it forward. My partner and I are now sponsoring Rory to come to Canada and join us here.
I cannot think of a person who is more suitable for this sponsorship. She is an educated, well-deserving woman facing the harsh life of being a Syrian lesbian refugee stuck in Turkey.
We are raising the funds now to bring her here as a privately sponsored refugee, and you can help. Maybe we cannot solve the problem of the six million Syrian refugees out there, but maybe we can together increase the number of LGBT refugees joining us here in Canada.
I call on you to help me sponsor my best friend: to give her a new hope for a new life in Canada. Consider it her birthday gift, and our Cana-versary gift. Help me to help my best friend make it safely to Canada.
(To donate click here: gofundme.com/rorycanada)