For Ehab Jaber and his family, immigration to Canada happened very quickly.
My parents were displaced in 1948 when Israel was created. My dad was eight and my mom was four. They grew up as refugees with no citizenship. My dad became a doctor, but non-citizens weren’t allowed to work in Lebanon. So he got a job offer in Dharan, Saudi Arabia. But he needed a passport. So he went to the post office and sent a telegram to the King of Jordan and said, “I’m Palestinian, I’m a refugee, I’m a doctor, I need a passport.” The post office thought he was crazy. But Jordan gave him citizenship by royal decree.
I was born in Dharan in 1970. But I’m not a Saudi citizen. From a young age I went to American schools in Saudi Arabia, then I went to the U.S. for high school and university. When I was 14, my dad dropped me off at a boarding school in Massachusetts. After university I was going to do a masters in education, and I started it, but after a few months I decided it wasn’t right for me and I went home. To Saudi Arabia. To my parents.
I applied for teaching jobs, but by a fluke, a cousin recommended I apply to a company called Proctor & Gamble, in marketing. I said, sure, whatever. And I got it. My first job with P&G was in Jeddah, on the Red Sea. During that time I realized that although it was comfortable, that place was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Like my parents in Dhahran, I lived in company-subsidized expat compounds, in these beautiful suburban homes, almost for free. But I didn’t live with the Saudi people. I didn’t feel a sense of belonging. I didn’t feel like a citizen. I wasn’t a citizen. I was an expat. I longed to live somewhere I could call my country, where I’d be respected, and would have respect for me, and human rights, and I could buy my own house.
Then I got married, and my wife felt the same way. So we applied to Canada.
It happened very quickly. Within a year, they sent the paperwork. I had just started working for Coca-Cola, in Cyprus, and my boss connected me with Coca-Cola in Canada. So we moved. That was 1999.
It was relatively very easy for us. I had a job with Coca-Cola immediately. My wife enrolled in university at York. We immediately bought a house, a condo in North York. And then we had a son, in 2002. In 2004, my wife and I separated, and she moved back to the Middle East. So I went too, to be close to my son. But after seven years in Dhubai, he and I came back to Canada. And we love it here. I’m very proud to be Canadian and raising my son here. I became a citizen in 2003, and my son has been a citizen since birth.
Immigrants of Toronto is a weekly feature celebrating Toronto’s diversity as a vibrant city of immigrants, refugees, and newcomers, as told to Stephen Thomas.