'We feel home': Syrian family opens new restaurant in St. John's

Mona al-Khalil and her husband Abdul Kafi al-Mostafa sit in their new restaurant on Water Street. The restaurant's opening is the start of a new journey and in a way, the end of one that started in war-torn Syria. 

"Since the first day we started dreaming about having a small restaurant," said al-Khalil. 

The restaurant is called Suriana which means "our Syria" in Arabic. 

"This is our Syria. This is our Syrian cooking, our Syrian dishes. That's why we call it Suriana. So Suriana is a dream come true," she said. 

Adam Walsh/CBC

Now as she looks at her smiling husband, al-Khalil takes in what they've accomplished. 

"It's amazing to have a restaurant in a year. We are exactly one year in Canada."

Leaving Syria

When the Syrian uprising began in 2011, al-Khalil, her husband and their five children were living in the city of Idlib, where they felt safe. 

Adam Walsh/CBC

But after a while things started to change. Some of their family members were arrested, al-Khalil said. When it looked like her husband was next in line to be taken, they decided it was time to go.

"We just locked the door. We were all in our car and we pretended that we were going to visit someone and we passed the borders to Turkey," she said. 

That was in 2013. The family thought they would be gone for just for a few weeks until things improved back home — but they never did. 

The chance to come to Canada

While staying near the Turkish-Syrian border, the family met a Canadian who became a friend. 

They stayed in touch through phone calls every now and then as time passed and the war raged on in Syria.

"He said is it getting better? We said no, it is getting worse," said al-Khalil. 

"And he said OK, do you want me to sponsor you to come to Canada. We said yes, we would love that."

The sponsorship process took two years before they arrived in Canada a year ago. 

"It became more than a dream. It became like a rescuing," said al-Khalil. 

A warm welcome

In St. John's after their first night, the family felt like they were a world away. They all went outside to check out the flowers and get to know the neighborhood. 

One of her sons loves dogs, al-Khalil said, and couldn't get over how many people in the city have one. He started introducing himself to people in the neighborhood as a dog walker. 

"He put a poster outside the house actually, on the tree, and people started coming to our house and we started meeting the neighbours, and that was really amazing," she said. 

We miss our country, we miss Syria, but we don't miss today's Syria. - Mona al-Khalil

Those people became family friends. 

 "I cannot thank them enough. They made us feel home," she said. 

When she thinks about the family's homeland, al-Khalil says they miss something they will never see again. 

"We miss our country, we miss Syria, but we don't miss today's Syria," she said. 

"We miss yesterday's Syria, like old Syria that we had for a long time."

In their new home, al-Khalil says they feel safe. The family intends to stay in St. John's and put down roots. 

"We feel home, and we felt home since the first morning in St. John's."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador