Our First Impressions of America

Mahmoud and Alia Al Ghanem, as their letter explains, are recent refugees from Syria who have been welcomed into the Salisbury community in recent months. This letter expresses their gratitude for the kindness and generosity they have been shown — and is especially meaningful at this time when their home city is under siege. Their letter was translated from Arabic by Salisbury resident Zeina Mehio.


We and our family are the refugees from Aleppo, Syria, whom your newspaper has been reporting on. We would like to speak to all of the members of the community who have so warmly opened their hearts to us. It has been difficult to fully express ourselves because we were not able to speak one word of English when we arrived at JFK Airport three months ago. We are still struggling with that.

Before we left Jordan, the country to which we fled from Syria, we had no idea what we were going to face upon arriving in the United States. We were simply told that we would go to a place called Connecticut. We learned the word “Hartford” back in Jordan, thinking it would be important to know once we arrived. It wasn’t. We didn’t know who would be waiting for us at the airport. We had a few suitcases, but much of what we carried was food and blankets.

The first word we learned upon arrival was “Salisbury.” A group of people from the Salisbury area led us to a van at the airport, and we were told that we were going to travel for three hours. It was dark and late and we were so tired from the journey when we arrived at a house in the woods. We had no idea where we were, and only one person spoke our language.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we fully realized that the house was our new home, beautiful Salisbury was our new town, everything in the house was given to us to help start our new life and so many people were volunteering to help. We never dreamed of such generosity. We had a very hard life for three years in a refugee camp and elsewhere after we fled Syria, so our expectations were low. It was remarkable to us that anybody, especially people we didn’t know, would do so much for us without wanting something in return.

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Why did we come to America? We came for our children. We have seven of them, all under the age of 12, including six girls. One was born last month — a real American! Our children haven’t had the opportunity to attend a serious school. None of them can read or write except our oldest, who had some brief schooling when we lived in Syria. Thanks to Salisbury Central School, we are confident that our children are now receiving a first-rate education and have opportunities that they would never have had, even in peacetime Syria. Thank you, Town of Salisbury.

I (Mahmoud) was fortunate to find work to help support my family. I wash dishes and clean up at the Lockup restaurant in Salisbury. It is not what I’m used to, but it’s work, and I am grateful to have it. 

However, there is a long way to go before being financially independent, which is my biggest priority beyond the health and education of the children. The best chance for independence is to take advantage of my 20 years of construction experience. I heard that there is a shortage of plumbers. 


It is my dream to get the opportunity to learn the American methods of this building trade, or an associated trade, and perhaps become one of the best plumbers in this area. I want to be able to fully support my family and then even give back something to the community. We have learned that it is the American way to help others. We want to be this kind of Americans.