GUEST COLUMN: A refugee and immigrant story

Couple chose Canada after postwar changes in Europe

It was a cool crisp morning when the ship disembarked. A tall thin young man took his first steps on new ground.

Overwhelmed by emotion, his legs collapsed from under him.

As he fell to the ground he began to weep uncontrollably. He wept from joy and fear. He wept for all he had lost and all to be gained.

His journey was a long one. He had escaped the clutches of war in his homeland to the safety of a monastery in Hungary where he awaited safe passage to a new unknown land.

Even though the world declared “War Over” almost a decade earlier, all was not safe.

His country had a different name now, Yugoslavia, and a different position in the world.

His family had been torn apart from years of war, some lost forever. It really wasn’t a choice but a means of survival to leave.

If he had to think about it, he probably would have stayed because he was too broken to decide.

She was so young, only a few months earlier she was a child. Her short life had been bleak and laborious. There was no other option.

Education was an inconvenience, an obstacle from the day to day struggle of the chores of taming the land, growing food for her brothers and sisters.

Their only comfort, they were all together.

She knew, in the depth of her soul that her life was not here.

So when a stranger came to her small village, she prayed.

He had made a small life for himself in Canada, his new homeland, but he was alone. He desperately wanted the life he had witnessed around him, a home, a family, an education.

All of this was possible in Canada but was not easy.

He missed his family in Europe.

His father was gone and he had not seen his mother or siblings for a long time. He had worked hard enough and long enough to purchase a ticket home.

Their meeting was not the story like that from Harlequin.

It was an understanding that they would create a good life for themselves and their future children. A life better than their own.

Their children would have laughter and fond memories.

He went ahead to prepare the way for her. She had never left her country, her village, her family. She boarded a train with papers in hand. The papers allowed to move about most of Europe.

She thought to herself, the letters “Mrs.” gave her permission she did not have three days before.

She experienced her first night alone in a hotel room in Frankfort with modern plumbing, a soft bed and a view of the city.

Her heart was filled with wonderment and fear. So many questions and scenarios in her mind.

Years later, they had all they ever hoped for.

He was a trained electrician with a secure job at Canadian Pacific Railway. She became a successful business woman with several employees under her care.

They had a family and a home. They traveled to the Okanagan every summer. They spent their weekends with friends. They gave back to the community and country that offered them so much.

It wasn’t always easy, in fact there were many obstacles. Not everyone was always kind to them.

They forged ahead because they could. They taught their children hard work, how to pick up after themselves, and to always be kind.

They were the best of examples of being a Canadian.

Who are these refugees and immigrants? I refer to them as Mom and Dad.

Mirjana Komljenovic is a Summerland resident and a grateful first-generation Canadian.

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