What Babies Need

9 Feb

A friend of mine just called me today to tell me that she finally, after years of searching, found a job. It’s just a retail job in a second-hand clothes shop, but she and I were both thrilled. In the evenings after work she brings her four-year-old daughter with her to night school. Her daughter’s daycare is closed by the time her evening classes begin, but B only has another month of schooling before finishing the certificate she is working on, and she’s determined to complete it despite the new job.

I met B almost exactly 4 years ago, shortly after she had come to Montreal as a refugee from West Africa. I met her as a volunteer for a small organization called “Action Réfugié de Montreal”, which pairs volunteers with newly arrived refugees as a source of support and friendship.  When we first met, B had only been in Montreal for a few months and her daughter was three months old. Our volunteer relationship blossomed into a friendship, which has continued although the official volunteer “contract” finished a couple of years ago when B was finally allowed to move beyond refugee status to become a Canadian resident.

Now that I also have a daughter, our relationship has changed and deepened. While in the past she often came to me for advice or explanations about paperwork, procedures, and logistics, she is now the one who has more experience than I do in one very important area of life: motherhood.

B’s strength, determination and joy despite everything that has happened to her are an inspiration to me. She has faced many challenges. She was forced to leave her child’s father behind, in West Africa, when she escaped to an unknown city on an unknown continent. She arrived in a francophone city unable to speak a word of French. She had her baby shortly after arriving, and dealt with having a newborn while still trying to find a place to live, still bewildered and very alone.

B was only able to complete grade 5 in her home country, since after that her mother could no longer afford her school fees. This made finding a job in Montreal almost impossible, especially considering the language barrier. I have watched her struggle to improve her reading, both in French and English, so that she could understand all the important documents sent to her by mail. She managed to find an apartment, prepare her defense for the stressful court case that would decide whether she would stay in Canada as a permanent resident or be deported back to her country, apply to educational programs and jobs. A girl from a small African town has learned her way around Montreal, has acquired functional French, and has discovered organizations and programs that help new immigrants such as herself that I never knew existed. She has survived, despite all odds.

She has done more than survive; she has raised a beautiful daughter. Her little girl is her pride and joy, and has been her companion through all the challenges she has faced over the last few years. Despite her very limited financial resources, B always manages to make sure that her daughter has whatever she needs. When her little girl was still a baby, I watched B skillfully bargain the price of getting her ears pierced to an amount she could afford. She set up a small savings account for her future education, even though she can barely afford to pay the rent and buy groceries. Every year she scrapes the money together to throw daughter a birthday party, complete with a fancy dress for the birthday girl, cake, balloons, and as many friends as their little apartment can hold. B makes sure her little girl gets to talk on the phone with family members including her father on a regular basis, and they have met other West Africans in Montreal who have provided them with a sense of community and extended family. B’s daughter is sweet and beautiful, and she calls me “Auntie”.

I am thankful that when I think about all that I wish for my child, I don’t need to hope that she can meet her father one day, or that I will be able to somehow find the money to provide her with healthy food, a home, and clothing. But my relationship with B has shown me that many aspects of motherhood are the same no matter what culture the mother is from, or what her situation is.  Mostly what babies need is love, and all mothers, no matter where they are from, know how to give that to their children.

Maro Adjemian lives in Montreal, Canada, with her husband and 10 month old daughter.

2 Responses to “What Babies Need”

  1. natasha devalia at 6:48 am #

    Wow! That’s an incredibly touching story of perseverence, resilience, and love Maro. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Heidi Nevin at 2:19 am #

    I loved this so much. Thank you, it brought tears to my eyes.

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