Ekram Al Momani

Ekram and the StormsEkram Al Momani

—by Yasmeen Al Momani

Ekram Al Momani is a teacher, a principal, a mother, a friend, a neighbour, and someone who consistently gives back to her community. Above all, Ekram is a woman who has persevered and experienced many influential events during her life, beginning in her childhood.

There is a small, bustling town called Sakhra in the north of Jordan where a baby girl was the first-born child to a loving middle-class family on a very rainy day in November. They had a vision for their little angel to lead a successful life, and to make her family and her village proud. This little angel was Ekram.

Ekram grew up surrounded by love and attention, with her family members having a great deal of faith in her. Her grandma was confident that Ekram would go to school and be educated so that she could recite the Holy Quran for her, as her grandma had never learned how to read.

At the age of 10, Ekram read a book called Around the World in 80 Days, and she dreamt that one day she would travel around the world and be introduced to a multitude of cultures and people. She wrote this dream in her diary.

Ekram’s grandparents were farmers who owned land and worked in the fields every day. Her grandma was a compassionate woman who would give back to the people in their little community who had less than they did. She included her grandkids in this work.

Every Friday, Ekram and her cousins would gather and deliver vegetables and grains to the less fortunate through food drives organized by her grandmother and mother. As Ekram would walk through the village with her cousins, she could smell the scented air that wafted over from the pine-oak trees in the narrow sand road, and she could hear the loud honking of cars warning children to stay off the street. As they would walk back from delivering food to families, they would treat themselves to an assortment of candy from the local convenience store known as the “Dukan.” Ekram would express to her cousins how happy she felt seeing the smiles on the people’s faces as she delivered the aid, and how thrilled she was to help in these drives.

Sakhra was very cold in the winter. This, coupled with the lack of heating at the schools, made learning difficult for the children. This harsh winter and hard schooling did not deter Ekram from her goal of attending university, something that her mother continually encouraged and supported her to achieve. This paid off when Ekram graduated from Yarmouk University in Irbid, with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. She pursued another degree in Methods of Teaching Science and began her career in teaching.

On the morning of a very harsh winter day in the village of Al Mrajam where Ekram was working as a teacher, something life-changing happened. The school day had started in the morning with students lining up for an assembly to recite the Quran, the national anthem, poetry, and literature.

Amid the dry, frosty wind, all of the teachers had arrived except for one, Afaf. This was concerning because there was only one bus that dropped teachers at the school, which meant that Afaf had missed the bus and was most likely waiting in the middle of the storm.

Ekram was the only teacher with a car and upon noticing the absence of her colleague, Ekram figured out that she had most likely missed the bus. Ekram was very worried for Afaf, and she hoped she would see her through the grey fog or hear the bus through the howling wind, but the assembly ended and Afaf had still not made it to the school.

Ekram asked the principal to excuse her so that she could go and check on Afaf. She drove her car through the horrid weather to the top of the hill where the bus stop was situated, and there she saw her friend holding onto a tree near the bus stop to prevent herself from flying away.

Ekram immediately halted her car and helped her friend into the passenger seat. She noticed that Afaf’s face and lips were blue and she was shivering. Afaf told her, “Thank you, you saved me, I nearly froze out there, I didn’t expect the weather to be this bad.”

This small act of kindness is something that Ekram did not make a huge deal about, and within a few weeks, she had forgotten the incident.

Two years into her career as a teacher, one of Ekram’s colleagues introduced her to her brother, Bilal, and they fell in love the first time they met. They soon got engaged and were married. Bilal was a Captain in the Royal Jordanian Air Force, but he had dreams of pursuing further education and attaining his Doctorate in Computer Science. His sister told Ekram of his dream, and she promised to support him in accomplishing it.

Within a few years of marriage, they had two children, Hashem and Yasmeen. Ekram’s career continued to advance and she built an excellent rapport with her students and their families. She was the first teacher in the province to introduce the idea of a school parliament, to give students the right to advocate for themselves.

The local newspaper and the press covered the election of the student parliament, and Ekram received a letter of appreciation from the Director of the Board of Education, as well as the mayor. She launched the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in the school where she and her students organized events and programs to raise awareness of protecting the environment. Soon, Ekram was promoted to vice-principal, and eventually she became the principal.

Within the community, Ekram was an activist in women’s issues and rights, empowering women. She was the President of the Jordanian National Forum for Women in her town, a member of the Jordanian Women’s Union, and of the Jordanian Red Crescent Society.

Everything in her life was perfect until a hot day in July when Ekram received a phone call. It was her husband, who had spent the week away at work. Ekram remembers the news he had to tell her very vividly. He said, “I just got an acceptance letter from the University of Ulster in Ireland to finish my Master’s and Doctorate, so get ready. We are moving to Britain.”

Ekram was speechless. All she could think about were her students, her school, the morning assembly, and images of her life in Jordan, which quickly flooded her brain. She knew she had promised to help Bilal fulfill his dreams, but what about her parents? What about coffee with her siblings? Or breaking the fast in Ramadan with her cousins? She suddenly felt overwhelmed and frustrated.

However, with time, Ekram decided that she would move, not only for her husband but for the future of her children. When the time came, and she had moved to the United Kingdom with her husband and her kids, she was scared, as she had just immigrated to a new and unknown country. In this different country she no longer had a car or even a driver’s license. She was unfamiliar with her surroundings and only knew how to walk her kids to school and walk them back home. She knew no one, and slowly, her life became empty and dull. The sky was always grey and the ground was always wet. There were no sunny days, no picnics with her students, and no dinners with her family. Her husband would leave for the university when the kids were still sleeping and come back when they had already gone to bed. It was hard for Ekram to find things to do during the day to keep busy.

One day, she was walking her kids back from school, when an unexpected hailstorm started to brew. The wind picked up, and with it, Ekram’s heart sank. She felt alone and as the cold hail began to rain down on her and her small children, she felt a sense of dread and isolation that was unknown to her. She rushed her kids to the shelter of a building beside the sidewalk. She stood there waiting for the hail to subside, and as she was holding the clammy hands of her children, she came to an odd realization: she had no cell phone and no one to rely on in her moment of need.

As this hopeless thought crossed her mind, a car passing by began to slow down and stopped in front of Ekram. Through the wind and hail, it was quite evident that the car cost a pretty penny. A man wearing a navy suit was sitting in the driver’s seat, with a soft smile on his face. “Hiya,” he had said with a thick, Northern-Irish accent. “Are you and your kids okay?” he continued. This left Ekram speechless for a second. After a second, he continued, noticing she was hesitant. “I just want to help. Do you need a lift?” This foreign phrase left Ekram flustered. “Your kids look a little cold, if you’re not waiting for anyone, I would love to extend a helping hand, and drop you off home if that’s okay.” Ekram was hesitant, but the sight of her children shivering in the cold allowed her to put her fears aside and take him up on his offer.

On the drive home, Ekram’s son and the man struck up a conversation, in which the son told the man how he and his little sister wanted a pet cat, but his mother was too scared of animals. The man played along, chuckled and laughed when necessary. When they got home, the man began to praise Ekram and her family. “You have got quite the chatterbox on your hands! I know it’s not my place, but I hope this winter isn’t too different from what you’re used to back home. All I hope is that you pay it forward.” She made it home safely with her children and never saw the man again.

As she tucked her kids into bed, she pondered her previous experience back in Jordan. How she helped her colleague in the middle of the storm, and how this complete stranger had come to her aid now. It made her think of karma and the selfless humanity that she had experienced. She thought about acts of kindness. About paying it forward. About the importance of community. These thoughts formed the path she would continue to follow for the rest of her life – a path that has led Ekram to be the kind, selfless person that she is today.

With these experiences and a new outlook on life, Ekram continued onto the next stage of her life. She continued to carry out these acts of kindness, hoping to put as much good into the world as she could. Her next memorable episode happened in Windsor, Ontario. As she was walking her youngest son, Saif, home, she was approached by a couple with their son. The couple appeared to be very distressed, with the father gasping for air and the mother looking as pale as a sheet. Speaking in Arabic, the man explained that they had approached Ekram because of her headscarf, assuming that she spoke Arabic well. It was evident that they were newcomers to Canada. Ekram was able to comfort them somewhat and was able to get a better understanding of the situation. They asked her for help translating for them at the doctor’s office where they had an appointment for their blind son. She immediately agreed and went with the family to the doctor’s office. When they arrived, the doctor was confused. Her eyebrows turned down and she asked Ekram, “Who are you?” Ekram informed the doctor that she was a stranger whom the family had stumbled upon, and she was there to help them in translating to English. Upon hearing this, the doctor smiled, and she told Ekram, “You are a saint.” These words resonated with Ekram as she continued translating to assist the family and the doctor. The act of helping people had always been Ekram’s passion and this deed of kindness began her journey of volunteer work and community aid in her new home country.

After moving again, to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ekram was once more very lonely and isolated in a new city. Although she had become accustomed to experiencing the fear of the unknown, it still unsettled her. She knew some women through social media and decided to launch the Women Empowerment Society to create a social network and combat social exclusion for women in the community. Around this time, Ekram was invited to attend an event for the Coalition of Muslim Women (CMW). Ekram loved the event and found the work of the CMW to be inspirational. She therefore decided to join the group and become a member. Her first undertaking as a member of the CMW was a dinner with the theme of “Breaking the fast with Muslim women,” which aimed to connect women in the community together and also build bridges between Muslims and the larger community.

Ekram volunteers in many organizations that support different causes in the Kitchener-Waterloo community: the Association of Canadian Arabs, the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support, and the Canadian Cancer Society. She has received recognition for this work through the Volunteer Action Centre, where she was the recipient of the “Grassroot for Multicultural Organization” award, and the CMW, where she was the recipient of the “Women Who Inspire for Community Service” award.

The most recent step in Ekram’s journey was just under a year ago. After years of asking and begging their mother for a pet cat in their home, Ekram’s children (who are now adults), took matters into their own hands. Her eldest son simply returned home with a little kitten, eyes as round as marbles and paws as small as a pebble. Ekram was terrified, not going near the tiny creature as she had feared cats her entire life. As the days passed, the kitten would roam around their home, smelling Ekram and staring up at her with his round, green eyes. Ekram found herself slowly falling in love with little Robin. She started to pet him, buy him toys, and play with him, until she finally loved and cared for this cat as if it were her child.

The story of Ekram and this cat, which may seem insignificant within the scope of her life, is symbolic of Ekram’s journey, as it represents her ability to grow to care and eventually love something that initially she was afraid of. This progression from fear to love with Robin mirrors the way she grew from being scared in her new community to now care deeply about and be an active member of the Kitchener-Waterloo community

Ekram Al Momani is a woman who has been able to conquer all of her fears and face them head-on, turning them into things she feels passionate about, from something as small as a cat to something as large as a community.

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