A member of the first Ugandan refugee family to come to Yarmouth is grateful to those who made them feel warm, loved and safe close to half a century ago.
In fact, so grateful she recently visited Yarmouth on an odyssey to find those who had helped them.
In 1972, Idi Amin, known as the Butcher of Uganda, issued a decree ordering the expulsion of over 100,000 people – giving them 72 days to leave or else they would be killed.
Nimira Parpia (Husein) remembers her father (Pyarali) standing in the Canadian embassy line and hoping for the best. Their extended family – Pyarali’s mother, his brother, his two younger sisters, his wife (Roshan), Namira and her brother – were some of the lucky ones.
Upon landing in Montreal they were provided with jackets, mittens and hats and then continued onward to Yarmouth.
It was November and for the first time ever, Nimira saw snow.
“You can imagine a five-year-old, wondering what that was,” she says, adding that’s why she believes she loves winter so much now.
She remembers walking into a living room with beautiful hardwood floors and seeing a Christmas tree in the middle, decorated with tinsel.
Although their family had never celebrated Christmas before, she says her uncle began the new tradition for them from that point on.
She continues the tradition with her husband and two children in Waterloo, Ontario, because she says Christmas trees now symbolize the hope, the caring, and the kindness and compassion that were shown to their family in Yarmouth.
“We had nothing. We didn’t speak the language. What it did for us, after we left, it helped us to remind each other that we really were very lucky to have had that experience here,” she says, reflecting back to her time in Yarmouth.
“When I put my Christmas tree up every year in Waterloo, that’s what I think of and I think this is the reason why I’ve had such a longing to come back.”
In mid-September, Parpia returned to Yarmouth to see how many memories she could bring to life.
She visited the Tri-County Vanguard office and browsed through bound volumes of old newspapers, finding stories about her family in 1972 newspapers.
She connected with Councillor Jim MacLeod then Dr. G.K. Kini, who remembered exactly where her family had lived.
She followed him in her car to the address and says, “The entire time we were driving I could feel the butterflies in my tummy.”
They stopped in front of the house, which was now blue, not yellow as Parpia had remembered.
“I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed, and emotional,” she says.
The porch where she used to sit on the steps where her mother would brush and braid her hair was gone. But the memory wasn't.
“It was a special moment shared with my Mom that I will never forget," she says.
She visited with Dr. Kini and his wife in their home afterwards, where he told her he had been a member of the Rotarians when they arrived and helped to settle them in.
“I always wondered what happened to your family,” he told her.
Parpia lives in Waterloo where she is married and owns Tadpole Children’s Shoppe. The couple's two children are Safina, 23, a writer, and Faiz, 17, who is in his first year of an aviation program.
“I think it’s so important for people to know that when refugees come into the country, how they’re treated when they first come in is really important," she says, her voice breaking, “A lot of people may not realize that compassion and that kindness stay with that family forever. It allows you to build a life because you want to be able to give back.”
Although Parpia didn’t find the answers to all her questions – she still wonders about the significance of an abstract painting by artist Thaya Batdorf given to her mother that was passed on to her – she says the trip “home” brought closure to many other puzzles.
She also met Mayor Pam Mood, who told her that her grandfather Fred Emin was mayor when their family arrived.
“Every person that I spoke to about my story and the reason I was visiting, helped me to get to the next step. I truly appreciate it. I came with no expectations, lots of questions and puzzle pieces that needed to be filled in and I left with my heart full with gratitude," she says.
“As soon as I came here it felt like home. It’s almost like I never left. I drive down the streets and I’m thinking, this just feels so right.”