Syrian family in Chambersburg prefer the fast pace of American life

Written by Ashley Books/ Public Opinion | Dec 15, 2017 11:42 AM

From left to right: Wisam Abu-HJaze, Jeian Abu-HJaze, Fagar Abu-HJaze and Sham Abu-HJaze participate in an event at King Street Church.(Photo: Courtesy)

CHAMBERSBURG - The living room of the Abu-HJaze family's house looks different than it did when they first arrived in Chambersburg six months ago.

Instead of just a coffee table and some furniture, a cabinet is now filled with stuffed teddy bears, and a television sits on top playing music from a Lebanese singer. Adjacent to the cabinet is a big plastic Crayola crayon filled with building blocks for the family's five children to play with.

But it isn't just the home that's different for the family, who fled the turmoil in Syria about six years ago.


Sham Abu-HJaze (left) poses for a photo with her sister, Fagar Abu-HJaze (right) on the front porch of their house in Chambersburg. (Photo: Courtesy)

"When I was in Harrisburg, (I did not speak) English," Amani said. "(There were) no good people, no anything, but when I (came to) Chambersburg, everything (was) good."

When Amani and Anas first shared their story with a reporter this summer, they did it in Arabic.

This time, six months later, they shared some of their story in English.

When Anas, his wife and their five children - Ahmad Abu-HJaze,12, Fagar Abu-HJaze, 7, Sham Abu-HJaze, 6, Wisam Abu-HJaze, 5, and Jeian Abu-HJaze, 4, - came to the area, he said he was scared and worried about getting a job.

Struggling to speak English at the time made it difficult to do simple tasks like paying bills, scheduling appointments or buying groceries.

But now, the family feel they have adjusted to life in southcentral Pennsylvania.

Anas was able to get a job at a warehouse in Carlisle, and even though they still take classes at the King Street Church, the family can have conversations in English with locals in the community. In fact, Anas is so comfortable speaking the language that he now goes to job interviews alone without a translator, and was even able to translate for a friend in Harrisburg.

During the day, the children attend school in the Chambersburg Area School District. Amani said they were very afraid at first, but they learned English very quickly and like their teachers and the other students in their classes.

And they are teaching their parents a thing or two, too. When they learn new English words at school, they will then come home and share them with their parents.

"My children are smart and learn fast," Amani said.

The family has had to get used to the fast pace of American life. Amani said she had trouble with it at first, but now likes keeping busy.

She laughed when saying that her "life is now like the Americans," because she is constantly going to and from appointments and different activities with the help of friends who can drive her.

Outside of taking care of her family, Amani is working on learning how to drive. She said she is still getting used to the local roads, and joked that she always tells her husband to slow down on the highway. She was afraid at first, she added, but then realized she can't be because this is something she has to learn how to do.

But even though they have adjusted to life in America, the couple still finds themselves missing Syria. The family is in the process of getting their permanent residency cards, and once they have them, Amani plans to visit her family in the Middle East.

"When I get (my) citizenship, I want (to go to) Jordan because I miss my family," she said.

She also plans to try and bring her brother into the U.S. Anas said he previously tried to bring over his parents in Jordan through Catholic Charities - the organization which helped them resettle in the country - but was unable to.

Jordan is not among the countries from which travel is restricted by President Trump's travel ban, which went into effect earlier this month after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay that had been placed on the latest version. Once the Abu-HJaze family become permanent residents, they will not be subject to the ban on the way back to the U.S. if they do go visit the Middle East.


Amani Asfour (left) poses for a photo with her daughter, Jeian Abu-HJaze (right), while visiting Norlo Park. (Photo: Courtesy)

Despite missing their relatives, the family is continuing to move forward.

Anas still hopes to one day open a Syrian restaurant, and said he wants to keep working to support his wife in furthering her education. Amani earned a law degree while living in Syria, and plans to go back to school to get an American law degree. She also hopes to one day combine her English and Arabic skills and become a translator, as well.

And even through the fast-paced American life the family has grown accustomed to, they still find time to be with each other. For the couple, at the end of the day the most important thing to them is their children.

"I and Anas love (our) children," Amani said. "Whenever our children need something, we try our best to get what they need."

Ashley Books, 717-262-4764

Support the Abu-HJaze family

A local organization, Community Uniting, will host a five-course dinner with live jazz music. All of the proceeds will go directly to the family.

When: 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16

Where: Trinity Episcopal Church Parish Hall, 58 S. Second St., Chambersburg

Cost: $25 a person

To reserve tickets, contact Sandy Grotberg at 717-658-6719, Jane Stockhausen at 412-979-0160 or Dalal McCarthy at 717-816-0720.


Amani Asfour (left) sits with her son, Wisam Abu-HJaze (right), during his kindergarten orientation. Abu-HJaze attends school in the Chambersburg Area School District. (Photo: Courtesy)

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