Sunday, July 30, 2006

A big "Thanks" for Red Cross-Quebec

With the huge number of Lebanese-Canadians evacuated to Montreal, I decided to volunteer few hours to help my fellow citizens fleeing the massacres of Israelis in Lebanon. It was hard to decide to give away my few hours of sleep on a Friday night. However, as the number of volunteers on this night is very low as most Canadians reserve it for the fun of the week.

At 6:00 pm, I returned home to sleep for two hours as I expect a long tiring night. I get up at 8:00 pm then I headed with Ghina to Dorval airport where the Red Cross emergency center is located. We arrived at 9:30 and it was very crowded. One volunteer told us that we have to go to the training center where briefing is given to new volunteers. We waited for a long hour. The operations management was not smooth but it is understandable in these situations as everyday is running around and tons of tasks are to be distributed evenly.

At 11:00 pm, I was asked to join the transportation team that is responsible to move people from the airport to the Hilton Hotel (Operational center) and then to other hotels around West Montreal. My Lebanese fellow who joined me for the training and for the first task, was not happy for the position as it involves physical power and moving heavy bags. I would understand him in different situation, but when I saw ladies and old men moving the bags, I felt that he has no single reason to complain.

Unloading and loading few buses, I was asked to accompagne a bus to other hotels and help the families check in. It was a break from the heavy work routine at the Hilton. However, being responsible for 40 persons and their belonging was not a fun trip as most people were nagging and complaining (typically Lebanese). One lady forgot her suit case at the hilton. Another man wants to arrive first. Another girl forgot her bag in the bus. Another gentleman wants to call his brother in Calgary...

After a fast trip to three hotels and unloading the bus, I headed back with the driver, the lady that forgot her suitcase at the center, and a bag that does not have an owner for the moment. Arriving at the Hilton, I reported to the supervisor and moved the bag to lost and found.

Back into the center, the transportation activities were low priority. Another urgent need at the airport. The supervisor asked me to join the airport team formed by another very nice supervisor (Louise), my wife Ghina, Ameena, Yasmina, Marian, Hisham, Tarek and Rymond. Each one of us had different expectations and motivations but all of us wanted to help the people arriving from Adanna in Turkey. Louise briefed us again on the operations and the activities and assigned the tasks. I got the front line position to greet people at their arrival and help them get the services they need.

I ended up waiting with few bottles of water presented by Red Cross. At the arrival of each family, I run to congratulate them, present them some water to drink, ask them whether they have a family in Montreal, whether they need to call someone in North America, and finally to show them the way out or how to wait for the bus to go to Hilton where a room is arranged for them for three nights. Immigration-Quebec were waiting as well in front of us and they received the guests before us. A team of Arab ladies from immigration-Quebec check the situation of every traveler first and present them food and medicine assistance right at the exit of the closed area in the airport.

We started this task at 1:10 am and two hours were needed to receive the first flight. We had one hour to rest before getting another flight at 4:15 am.

During that hour, we got some rest and a nice chat with Louise that informed me and Ghina about her life in Africa (15 years) and that her daughters are living there as well but they keep a closer relation with her than girls who are living right next to their mothers in Canada.

Every traveler has a story and expectations. All of them are tired but some of them need the help, others did not. Some of them are coming from comfortable areas in Lebanon but wanted top benefit of the free trip and to escape the uncomfortable environment in Lebanon.

For example, few wealthy families asked for Hotel support though they have a place in Montreal or around it. Others can afford to pay for their rent but still went for the hotel. Others can easily handle their bags but wanted the Red Cross volunteers to manage that for them (Typically Lebanese).

* One old lady surprised the whole team. She has two daughters in Laval but still want a hotel because she can not wake them up on a Saturday morning :)
* Another has a family in Montreal and they knew she is arriving that morning. However, they had to go for their vacations. This is not negotiable.

I could not but say that: Coming into this world, Lebanese are loosing some of the long praised Lebanese spirit of generosity, tender and the family ties.

1 comment:

Bilal Abdul Kader said...

A great indian friend "Akhila" sent me this note:

I really liked your Blog, especially the piece where you volunteered for the Lebanese coming to Canada. Extremely well written..Felt like I was there myself...