The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 and has displaced roughly half of the country’s pre-war population of 22 million. Of those forced out of their homes, about 5 million have sought refuge in other countries. For the last decade, this humanitarian crisis has never strayed far from daily news headlines. Canada’s response to the crisis, muted at the outset, by 2015 had grown more focused and resolute. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, as of April 2019 almost 64,000 displaced Syrians have resettled in Canada. Despite these efforts, the crisis remains a story of human suffering on a massive scale: one that continues to generate new chapters in a global narrative that offers few glimmers of hope and scant reason for optimism.
One story that has provided much more than just a glimmer of hope is that of the Hadhad family’s journey from Syria to Antigonish, Nova Scotia. In Damascus, the Hadhads, led by Isam Hadhad, operated a chocolate factory that employed a sizable workforce and exported their product throughout the Middle East. Inspired by Isam’s community-focused business philosophy, the Hadhads were popular, respected and by any standard successful, even prosperous. That all came to an abrupt end one day in November 2012 when the industrial sector of the city was bombed and the factory destroyed. When their home was destroyed as well, the family’s chief concern became survival, and their options shrank until fleeing their homeland was the only course of action that made sense.
Jon Tattrie’s skilful narrative captures the tension and uncertainty of those early days of the Hadhad family’s reluctant quest for safety, which first took them across the border into Lebanon where they languished for what must have seemed an eternity. As the war raged on and hopes of returning to Syria faded, they began to consider other destinations, Canada among them. Tareq, the Hadhad’s oldest son, explored an array of possibilities and was put in contact with Canadian officials. A way forward was taking shape, but Tareq was also at the mercy of forces beyond his control. Needless to say, when he began looking seriously at Canada as a potential landing spot, he did not expect his family to end up in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
In Peace by Chocolate: The Hadhad Family’s Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada Jon Tattrie tells a heartening story of endurance, luck, tenacity, and human kindness. Midway through, the story shifts to Antigonish, where a determined group of citizens, deeply touched by the scale of suffering the crisis is causing, decides they cannot sit back and do nothing. The Hadhad family’s arrival in a small university town at the base of an inlet on Nova Scotia’s north shore (and in the midst of one of the most severe winters in recent memory) was treated as a major community event and became for Antigonish something of a turning point and a source of enormous pride.
Seeking purpose and a way to give something back to the people who had welcomed his family into their community, Isam Hadhad revived his passion for artisan chocolate, initially giving away the fruits of his labour for free. But within a few months, and with the help of countless volunteers, the Hadhads had founded Peace by Chocolate and began to sell their product in a wider marketplace that quickly expanded beyond the town of Antigonish and the province of Nova Scotia to include all of Canada and the United States.
Tattrie’s book recounts in unsentimental terms the extraordinary achievement of many people. The Hadhads, the community of Antigonish, and the Canadian immigration officials who work to open doors to refugee families triumphed over geographical, fiscal, political, and bureaucratic obstacles. At any point, the story could have come to an untimely end if someone in this fragile chain had given up. But everyone knew what was at stake and carried on.
Amidst the chaos and injustice of these anguished times, Peace by Chocolate is exactly what we need: a story that reminds us that even against enormous odds positive outcomes are possible and that remarkable things can be accomplished through hard work and perseverance.
Jon Tattrie is the author of seven books, including the Canadian bestseller The Hermit of Africville. He works as a journalist for CBC Nova Scotia.
- Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (Oct. 6 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 216 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1773101897
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773101897
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