This blog post comes to you from Yvonne Zacharias, a VWF Volunteer who wanted to share this amazing Festival experience
Having been a journalist for many years, a former Quebecer and mother of three, one evening of volunteering at the 2015 Vancouver Writers Festival on Granville Island created an unforgettable experience.
I acompanied Ensaf Haidar, the wife of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, and their three children, Najwa, 12, Tirad, 11 and Miriam, 8, to the event where Ensaf was to speak. Because the family speaks no English and is fluent in French and Arabic, I was asked to help as I speak French. From the minute I met her at the Granville Hotel where the family was staying, I could see that inside this determined and remarkably calm mother, a spark burns brightly.
As we walked to the event, it wasn't all seriousness. We shared little tips about living in Quebec. We talked about the cold winters, about skating, about hockey, about school, about the mundanities of life, as though they could mask the perilous state of their one family member who could not be with us. I felt that a little of Quebec, which I miss at times, had come to visit in the unlikely form of a Saudi Arabian family. The kids and I even joked about getting Ensaf on skates one day!
When we arrived at the theatre, journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who was jailed by Egyptian authorities for over a year, and his wife, Marwa Omara, joined us backstage before the event. The scene in the room was like one in an airport where long lost strangers meet. Marwa held Miriam on her knee as they all talked in Arabic. I have no idea what they were saying. I didn't need to. It was magic. Then it was Ensaf's time to take the stage. As she spoke, Mohamed, Marwa and I sat with the three children who, obviously exhausted, nodded off in their seats.
After we all walked back to the Granville Hotel, Mohamed holding Tirad's hand, Ensaf and Najwa both gave me a big hug. Goodbye, goodbye. I turned back for one last look in Ensaf's eyes. And there it was, caught in the faint light of a dark, misty evening. That spark.
To learn more about Raif Badawi and Ensaf's campaign to free him and other imprisoned journalists and activists, please visit raifbadawi.org