Mikhail Al Mordaa

Written by Canmore Museum

Tell me about your journey to the Bow Valley? How long have you lived here, where did you arrive from?

“I’m from Syria. I lived all my life there, and then moved out in mid-2015 to Lebanon for a year and a half before coming to Canada. Then I came to Canada in December 2016; I came to Calgary first, and my sponsor is in Calgary. It’s like refugee sponsorship by a church. I lived there with my sister and my brother in law for three months, then moved to Banff after attending a career fair for jobs in Banff. I was working [at a resort] until the lockdown and then [at another place] at reopening. Next April I’m gonna complete 4 years in Banff. Life-long vacation!”

What does an average day look like for you right now?

“Now it’s a little bit different from the lockdown. It’s cool to see the town back to life after being a ghost town during the lockdown. I believe all the locals were happy to see Banff empty so they could enjoy it themselves but not having so many people makes it look really sad. We started to have people coming here in the summer and every body was happy to have their jobs back.

Right now, all of us are afraid from the ‘second wave’ as they call it. Its just, I’m personally I feel like its cool to have like, steadily busy winter instead of complete lockdown.”

After the lockdown, I started working at [a] resort, it belongs to the same company. It’s a really nice cozy place, when its snowy we turn the fireplace on and enjoy some relaxing music. I work full-time. In my free time I go to gym. I also like cooking; I cook Syrian home-made recipes.”

How are you getting along with your close relationships? 

“That’s the hardest part. All my friendships I’ve built here in the Bow Valley, just gone, and constantly changing because I live in staff accommodation.

Banff has always been a transient community, but this is the only time I felt I’m stuck because I don’t have any travelling status that allows me to go see family, and at the same time all my friends left the town.

It’s hard to have this feeling in one of the best places in the world. I can’t enjoy the mountains like I used to, that’s the hard thing.

My closest friends are, spread around the world, two of them in Europe, one of them still in Lebanon, still communicating with them. We supported each other, especially my friend in Lebanon, I understand him well, trying to cope with the lockdown, regardless of the differences in life conditions, because now Lebanon living, bad life circumstances. That’s why he’s just struggling more than I do I would say, financially wise and the status, but for the lockdown it was becoming equally hard on both of us.”

What’s been the hardest part of this for you?

“The struggle started before COVID period, when my sister left Canada and went back to Syria in 2019, September. She was the only family I have here in Canada. Since she left, I felt so lonely, specially seeing her celebrating with the rest of the family and all around each other, and I’m completely away just by myself. Frankly, I’m still living here but my thoughts are all there with family. In February, I got an ACL surgery, and just being alone in the hospital increased the lonely feeling. And then the lockdown came right after my surgery recovery. So, since September 2019, the hardest thing was loneliness.”

Has this impacted you financially?

“Actually, the finances were really good. I was struggling at first to get my sickness EI for the surgery, and then the regular EI after that. I was struggling to get them activated. I wanted to say special thanks to everyone in Town of Banff, specially Javan and Anna-Lisa, they were great help in this situation, they provided so much support and they always encourage people. They helped me figure out how to activate EI and eventually I got it activated in April 20th, both sickness and regular EI. I wasn’t struggling financially, I just felt insecure at the beginning when I had only $1,000 in my account, then in April everything was good until I started working in June.”

Is there anything you are afraid of?

“The only fear I’ve got right now is not being able to see family. Because when your life is going normal as you know it and you feel like every thing alright and then pandemic happen, all the negative thoughts get into your head, and that leads to doubt everything and be hesitant with all endeavours. For example, I haven’t even started any family here yet, but the current situation made me hesitant in this thing, I’m still so confused whether to have a relationship here or not. Banff is a transient community. I mean living among travellers is awesome but its not the perfect environment to find the family-orientated lady to establish a family with. When the lockdown started, thinking about the family I left behind, I mean, I’m away from put my faith a little bit in to test.“ 

Is there something that turned out to be a secret blessing from this experience?

“Absolutely, my faith went really stronger. I started praying more, I started appreciating everything more. Like, from someone who left a war zone to a place that is to work in, I mean Lebanon. It’s a beautiful place, with many great people, but it’s different when you live as a refugee there. Then I came here to Canada where everyone is friendly, life is so much appreciated. At some point I was concerned, and started asking my self, what if I lost all this? The mountains and the friends and the great job.

Living so long in bad circumstances and then moving to Banff and having the job I dreamed of, made me think there is something wrong, it shouldn’t be that perfect!

Then the lockdown happened, and we’re back to weirdness again. Eventually, keeping good faith was my thing. I felt desperate, hopeless, doubtful, bored of waking up on the same thing every day, nothing was new, maybe I would never have a chance to see my parents, this was all the doubts I had during this situation. But praying, keep a good faith in God, that makes me feel like I’m stronger.“

What do you think you will remember from this time?

“I’m trying to remember stuff from the lockdown! Actually, there is always friends, that’s what I can say. No matter how lonely you feel, there’s always friends, there’s always someone that you can talk to, even if it’s not directly, but through technology. I also remember one important thing – technology can either work for you or against you. It works against you when you keep watching these stressful reports about pandemic, some of them are real, others are not; and hearing stuff like, its crazy out there, apocalyptic events happening, and all the other stressful things it can destroy productivity.”

When you make the right decision to make use of technology, results will be really awesome. For instance, talking to family, and all my relatives and friends that I haven’t been communication with for a long time, strengthen my perspective of where I am right now. That was on the social level, and personal level I was working on some hobbies like playing guitar, I had some online courses in playing guitar, and also in the movie industry, like there is a website called Future Learn, I had 2-3 online courses. One of them is screenwriting, and one of them is filmmaking, its just introductory levels but it gave me really good insight about film industry.”

If you could speak directly to somebody in the future, what would you want them to know about this time period in your life?

“I would say keep a good faith. I’m talking not just as a survivor of lockdown, but also as a survivor from war. Despite all these events and crises I still feel we always struggle and compete with each other, like, we think that life is always a fight, financially wise, or position wise, but the actual fight is how to be around family, how to be good for a community. I didn’t feel the depth of this concept, like how to be productive for a community until I lived in the lockdown. And as I mention previously, what Javan, Ana-Lisa and some other supportive friends did was unbelievable, I was wandering why I can’t be part of this. I even talked to Javan about volunteering, I want to volunteer with seniors because this part of the community needs extra care, but it was too late, the pandemic was starting and stuff like that. He said maybe in May we can start this biking activity with the seniors, but it didn’t happen.

The real fight is how to be productive, how to give others with all your heart instead of just fighting for a position, or for money. I would like to give another example here also. During the lockdown there was someone, I don’t know if it was here in Banff or some city in Canada. He starts hoarding hand sanitizer bottles and started selling them for $9. That was just bad image. On the contrary, one of the business owners here in Banff, as small lodge with only 5 rooms, offered all the cleaning products he stocked for the hotel for free, just take what you need, don’t hoard, but have what you need and it will be sufficient for the community for the month. That guy just made his reputation for history. It made me feel like good deeds make better reputation than trying to think in a selfish way.

This thing is also based on my belief in God, like in the bible said, it was affecting my life really well, God says be compassionate, love others. This is what we really need, we didn’t realize it until we had to spend 24 hours in the house, trying to figure out how to spend or waist time.

I would tell the person in the future, try to hold on to your family, or be close to your family.

Financial stuff is important to think about and organize but not to stress about, like your whole life depends on it. I would also like to tell him/her to be productive for others as much as you can, this will be acknowledged, it won’t be wasted.“

Anything else?

“These questions sum up everything I lived in during the lockdown until now. Struggling with fear, shift the focus on how grateful we can be, how to focus on family and those who love us, and focus on how human values and morals are more valuable than we think. Sticking to these principles can make us endure the crisis and come out from it even stronger.“

The Stories of Resilience project offers deeply personal insights into the lives of Bow Valley residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. They each share their unique challenges, fears, hopes, and lessons learnt during this unique time in history. This project was brought to life by a collaboration of local organizations: Bow Valley Immigration Partnership (BVIP), artsPlace Canmore, Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore Museum. With special thanks to Community Connections in the Bow Valley.

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