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Canada 150: Egypt’s Ibrahim Al-Nahhal and family feel comfortable in Newfoundland


Published on June 29, 2017

Ibrahim Al-Nahhal (centre) moved to St. John’s last May to begin working towards his PhD in electrical engineering. Joining him on his Canadian adventure were his young family consisting of son Saif (left), daughter Aisha (right), and wife Israa (not pictured), who gave birth to their son Osama not long after their arrival in Canada.

©Kenn Oliver/The Telegram

Ibrahim Al-Nahhal has been in Newfoundland for only 13 months, but he’s already fitting in. About the only aspect of life here he’s not keen on is the weather.

“But otherwise it’s perfect,” says the 32-year-old from Egypt. “I like the simple style of life, the kind people, it’s very fantastic place.”

Weather complaints aside, when Al-Nahhal and his young family experienced their first true snowfall, it was a special occasion.
“I don’t know what will be in the future,” he says, “maybe I will hate the snow.”

See? Fitting right in.

Al-Nahhal moved to St. John’s last May to begin work towards a PhD in electrical engineering with a focus in wireless technology at Memorial University. Joining him are his wife Israa, son Saif, 7, daughter Aisha, 5, and 11-month-old son Osama, whom he calls “a Newfie,” having been born not long after the family’s arrival.

He didn’t have to come to Canada.

He could very easily have stayed in Antwerp, Belgium, where he worked in research and development for a company that is now owned by Nokia. They offered him the chance to complete his doctorate while working, making three times the amount of money he does here.

But Al-Nahhal didn’t feel staying in the largely transient and congested city, where connections were hard to make and a sense of community was lacking, was the right move for his family.

“From my perspective, I did’t feel comfortable for my family,” he says. “I feel comfortable for my family here.”

That comfort isn’t just a figurative feeling, it’s also literal for Al-Nahhal and his family.

At home in Egypt, Ramadan, the Muslim religion’s month-long fasting period during which one cannot eat or drink during daylight hours, may be shorter in length due to Earth’s rotational axis around the sun at this time of year, but the trade-off is the temperature difference.

“I had the opportunity to spend Ramadan with my family in Egypt, but I insisted on going back to Canada because it’s a little bit easier,” Al-Nahhal says with a laugh.

But religious observances aside, there’s a litany of things that he and his family appreciate about their new life in a Canadian community.

In a short time, he has established meaningful relationships and friendships with neighbours and colleagues at university, many of whom are international students like him, he says. And this summer he’s starting to expand that base by playing for Feildians in the local men’s intermediate soccer league.

While Israa doesn’t work and Aisha will start school this September, Saif is building his own network of friends from school and learning the language remarkably quickly.

“Before we came, no English, but after one year Saif is perfect in English. Maybe he became better than me,” he says proudly of his eldest child.
“The learning ability for the kids is better than adults.”

But what has most appealed to him and his family are things that Canadians sometimes take for granted.

“I love it here, the vast places, the natural places, not congested places,” he says, noting that in Egypt, a country of about 90 million people, buildings are practically stacked on top of one another and green spaces are hard to find.

“Here, I’m walking on the street and see the beautiful nature.”

If anything, Al-Nahhal’s appreciation of life here — both the big and the small — is enough to make any Canadian appreciate their country even more.

For example, in Canada, men aren’t obligated to serve a year in the nation’s military just to have a chance at a normal life like they are in Egypt.

“You cannot find any job because the first document for any job is a military service certificate,” says Al-Nahhal, who was fortunate enough to spend half his service time putting his engineering training to good use as a radio room operator for the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Darfur, Sudan.

The family will be here for at least another three years while he completes his PhD, but it’s already clear — despite Saif’s cheekish suggestion they “stay here a little bit and then go to Egypt” — Al-Nahhal wants to put down roots on Canadian soil.

“Here the life is simple and I love the simple life,” he says. “The people live in a simple way and in harmony.”

 

kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: kennoliver79