Monday, December 19, 2016

2016 Olson Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas everybody. 

So as you have probably heard we've had a tough year. I am currently typing this on a borrowed computer that I got from one of the host families here in Syria. It was difficult to find a keyboard with English keys as all of them here are in Arabic, but the incredibly resourceful Syrians were able to get one somewhere. This is has also been the reason for the lack of our communication in recent months.

I know a lot has already been said about the unimaginable turn of events in Canada, and there will be much more to come as the world tries to understand what happened and we Canadians cope with our uncertain future.  The most disturbing aspect of this is how utterly unprepared we were as a country for this type of disaster. Were we simply na├»ve? Too trusting? Stupid? In any case, looking back now it seems that all the United States ever really saw us as was a cheap and handy source of energy. All those decades of friendship, trade and cooperation really meant nothing when it came down to survival.

As it stands, the government of Canada has fallen and the US has appointed an interim leader. Our army, navy and air force have been decimated and the US military has taken over what was left of them. So many people have died. So many people have been injured and disfigured beyond recognition. So many people we knew, and loved. I think we tried our best to put up a resistance, but it was futile in the face of overwhelming odds. All the jokes we used to make about Americans being gun crazy and keeping inventories of assault weapons and ammunition in their houses don't seem too funny now at all. But like I said, I'm sure you already know all of this, and probably more than I do about the current situation.

The good news is that the four of are alive, which is more than can be said for many others who were caught in the first offensive. Unbelievably our nice little town of Paris was right in the path of the army and it was almost completely destroyed. We had already fled our house before the bombs hit, and there is nothing left there now but a smoking hole in the ground. At least I don't have to cut the grass anymore, ha ha. We lost everything besides what we could carry in our backpacks. During the escape two of us were hurt. I was very close to an explosion from a bomb and a piece of shrapnel hit one of my eyes and ruined it. Magnus got shot in his leg and Ana and Stella were extremely close to being killed, but fortunately they were able to hide beneath some wreckage when the soldiers were spraying bullets into a crowd so they made it out ok. Both Magnus' and my injuries were treated so we are pretty much fine now and will both have great war stories to tell our kids and grandkids. Many of our friends and family were not so lucky, and the four of us have literally cried ourselves to sleep many nights thinking of those we have lost, rest their souls. Ana and I are doing our best to be strong for the kids, but to be honest I think they are the ones who have helped us through. Our kids are so incredibly resourceful and emotionally tough that I know in the end they will be fine.

To make a long story short, after we fled our town on foot we met up with Ana's folks and her brother, wife and newborn at a makeshift camp in Brantford (the mobile phone network was still working back then so we could communicate by phone and text, but that didn't last for long). For a while they had converted the Civic Centre into a meeting point for all the people who had lost their homes in the bombing, and that's where Magnus and I were treated as they had a bunch of medical workers there. We were told that the US military was going to take over the building so we had to get out. Now what we Canadians always thought of as a geographical gift of having only one friendly country as a neighbour turned out to be a total disaster as there was no place to escape to when that neighbour turned out to be not so friendly – the only options were three big oceans on all remaining sides. We thought of going to our sailboat on Lake Erie but realized the army would certainly have taken over the Welland Canal, blocking our access to the ocean. The other option was taking the Erie Canal but since that runs straight through the US it didn't seem likely we'd be able to get far.

We bought space on a private bus headed for the east coast where the army was allowing people to leave the country. The UN and a bunch of ally countries had set up a base in Halifax where they were airlifting people out. Luckily when things were looking bad at the start I had taken a large amount of cash out of the bank, and literally the day after I did this the entire banking system was frozen and people weren't able to access any of their money. This is what enabled all of us to get to Halifax, and it wasn't cheap, but at least we made it there. Now don't ask me how this happened, because I really don't understand it myself, but we were put on a series of airplanes that eventually ended up in Syria, of all places. I would have thought we would end up in the UK, France or some other European country but the whole world order and politics are so screwed up at the moment, that's just how it happened, and we were just happy to be getting out, no matter where we ended up. Sadly, we were not all able to go together and the rest of Ana's family was sent to Turkey. They are actually only about 500 kilometres away from us, but we aren't allowed to travel at the moment, so we haven't seen them but we know they are safe and doing okay and we hope to reunite with them sometime soon. Most of my family is still in Saskatchewan, and the last time we were in contact they were fine, but scared as the US army had taken over there too, but there had been much less violence than in the east of the country. My brother from Ottawa and his family are currently in Halifax and trying to get out on one of the planes, hopefully that happens very soon.

So what now? Until the current situation changes, we are living in Syria. It is hard to watch and read the news of what's going on back home, as there is so much death and suffering. We also don’t know what to believe, because the US networks are covering most of it and they obviously cannot be trusted. For now, we still have a fair bit of cash left, so should be fine for the foreseeable future, but we are also getting help from many Syrian families in the neighbourhood in which we are living. Most of the Syrians we have met have been supportive and helpful, while others are suspicious and wary of this foreign family plopped down in their midst. I don't know how long we will be here so we have begun Arabic lessons to try and make sense of this language that is so completely foreign to us. I am hoping that at some point we will be able to access our accounts back home, and if we can then we will probably try to get to an English speaking country, but until then we are just happy that we are all safe, we have beds to sleep in, and are being well taken care of by our Syrian hosts.

Before last year, we lived like everybody else in Canada did, with our luxurious lifestyle and everyday issues that were so minor that it's quite laughable now. Yes, we always tried to take time to stop and appreciate what we had, and we tried to teach the kids not to take things for granted. But now, we are really learning what it means to be appreciative. And when it comes down to it, we have our lives and we have each other, and there isn't anything else that matters. I do not know what our future holds, but I do know that this ordeal will make us stronger, wiser, and better people in the end. In the meantime, we will continue to grieve for our dead and pray for the living.

To our friends, family and countrymen still in Canada and those who are scattered around the world – be strong, be smart, and never give up hope. We will be together again.


Merry Christmas to you all! Count your blessings and here is to a 2017 full of love, peace and compassion.

Kris, Ana, Magnus and Stella Olson