Donald Trump would surely view Rima and Shekrallah Kenaan as a threat to America. The good people of Digby, Nova Scotia, view them as excellent friends and neighbors.
I met this Syrian couple at a local farmer’s market in the tiny Canadian town where I migrate each summer for a vacation amongst dozens and dozens of my in-laws, whose ancestors were on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War and thus forced to retreat across the border a couple centuries ago, their heads hanging in defeat. To this day, many of their descendants follow the latest doings of the British royals, enthralled by every twist and turn of the anachronistic monarchical saga.
Ever since their forced migration, they’ve been gathering each year in Sandy Cove, a tiny fishing village whose wintertime population of about 40 swells to 200 or so during summer.
The in-laws — there are always at least 30 of them wandering around at any given moment — are a congenial crew, but, inevitably, peculiar family dynamics kick into gear each year that affirm Freud’s conception of the subconscious as a roiling stew of unacknowledged jealousies, resentments and insecurities. Baffling emotional outbursts are liable to occur at any time. Someone’s feelings are sure to be hurt. Tears will be shed.
We will regress.
We eat, we drink, we talk politics. We watch family slide shows that would surely bore the hell out of you — over and over and over again, we watch them.
Inevitably, an emotional explosion occurs as the result of some perceived slight, real or imagined. I’ve only been here two days, too soon for any family cataclysms. Wounded feelings typically take a little time to marinate before erupting in all their spectacular glory. For now, we’re happily engaged in our summer rituals.
Yesterday we went to the local farmer’s market organized by — you guessed it! — one of my in-laws. It was a tiny yet charming affair, just a half dozen tables set up in the elementary school gym, which is always in danger of closing because there are barely enough children around here to keep the school in business. The produce offerings were minimal: some Swiss chard, a few cucumbers, some fresh basil. One table was stocked with homemade jams, another with hand-crafted soaps, another with jars of honey.
Rima and Shekrallah were the stars of the show. They had whipped up a scrumptious curried chicken and rice dish, as well as some hummus, baba ganoush and tabbouleh. An array of Middle Eastern sweets was displayed at one end of their table. (Sadly, the baklava had already sold out by the time we arrived.)
Rima and Shekrallah were quick to smile and happy to share their story, which they told in as much English as they had cobbled together in the three years since they relocated with their six children to this extremely isolated corner of the globe, where they are the only Middle Easterners within a hundred miles.
The Kenaans are from Homs, the site of a three-year siege during which fighting raged between the Syrian military and the anti-government opposition. Even after the fighting ended, President Bashar al-Assad, always willing to slaughter his own people, ordered summary executions of civilians in the ancient city.
To escape the carnage, the Kenaans sought refuge in Canada, where they were welcomed by a consortium of churches of various faiths, among them Anglicans, Baptists and Congregationalists. These are real Christians, unlike the fake ones who support Thrice Divorced Serial Adulterer, Pathological Liar and Con Artist Donald Trump. They believe in helping the downtrodden, not demonizing them.
The Kenaans have been studying English diligently, but it’s a hard slog. The isolation is difficult, too, especially for their children — three boys, three girls — the oldest of whom is 16. Nevertheless, Rima says, “We are happy here. It’s safe.”
In their own way, the Kenaans manage to convey this simple idea: A real Christian is to Trump as a genuine Muslim is to Isis.
“These guys, they are not real Muslims,” says Shekrallah, whose name means “Thank you, God.”
(The Kenaans, polite to a fault, made their point about Isis without my demeaning reference to Trump supporters, but I can’t help myself.)
The Kenaans are just the sort of people Trump targeted with his racist Muslim ban, which was recently upheld by America’s Supreme Court. The right-wing ideologues who are holding the court hostage — with an able assist from Senate Majority Leader and Passionless Toad Mitch McConnell — recently upheld the ban in a ruling that ignored the lengthy factual record showing that it is an un-Constitutional piece of crap. Trump, of course, greeted their malicious ruling with glee.
Just thinking of that bastard makes me wonder if I shouldn’t follow my in-law ancestors across the Canadian border and remain here until I die.
I would be honored to have the Kenaans as my neighbors.