VANCOUVER - A Syrian refugee is finding comfort in his new homeland through the use of universal tools — barber scissors and an electric trimmer.
Mohammed Kurdi gave his first haircut in Canada to the mayor of his city, an honour the politician and Kurdi's sister say symbolizes a fresh start for the family of a drowned Syrian boy.
Mayor Richard Stewart of Coquitlam, B.C., was Kurdi's first customer this week at a salon opened by Tima Kurdi, the aunt of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a Turkish beach last September.
A week after members of the Kurdi family arrived in British Columbia, Stewart requested a cut from Mohammed Kurdi as a gesture of welcome and support.
Kurdi had worked as a barber for 15 years in Syria, but officials stopped him from offering his services in a refugee camp in the Middle East.
"It seemed obvious to me he took comfort in those tools in his hands, Stewart said Friday. "He probably doesn't have many in his day to day, these days. But those tools were familiar.
"I just saw such hope in his face. He said, 'I want to work. Thank you all for your support, but I don't want to be reliant on the help of others.'
"We were both incredibly honoured, I think. I was deeply honoured to have him cut my hair."
Kurdi, his wife and their five children arrived in British Columbia on Dec. 28 and were sponsored by Tima Kurdi, who has become an unofficial spokeswoman for people fleeing war-torn Syria. The family has been showered in media attention after a photo of their lifeless nephew sparked international sorrow about the humanitarian crisis.
The little boy died alongside his five-year-old brother and their mother while crossing the waters between Turkey and Greece.
The case took on special resonance in Canada. Alan's father, Abdullah Kurdi, attempted the treacherous journey when his brother Mohammed's original refugee application was rejected by the Canadian government. Not all the necessary documents were included.
Tima and Mohammed opened their new salon, Kurdi Hair Design, in Port Coquitlam on Tuesday. The man's children have started school and volunteers are planning to provide them tours of city hall, the police station, parks and recreation venues and the library.
Tima Kurdi, who translates for her brother, said Mohammed felt "proud" to cut the mayor's hair. His next goal is to learn to speak English so he can chat with their clients, she said.
"He said to me, 'Hopefully the next time they come back, in six weeks or a month, I'm going to say, 'Wow, nice to see you again,'" she said in an interview Friday. "I said, 'Take it step by step, and you're doing really, really good.'"
Stewart said Mohammed Kurdi didn't want to accept the $24 payment and substantial tip for the cut, but he left the money with them as he departed. He described Kurdi's skills as meticulous and focused.
"He's obviously a very experienced barber. I came away with a pretty good haircut. And a really nice moment to share with them."
The Canadian government has pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by the end of February, and 6,974 people had arrived by Jan. 6.
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