Mayor Sandra Goudie has adopted a traditional Syrian robe into her official regalia.
During her next official outing and at least once in the council chamber, the Thames-Coromandel leader plans to wear the black robe of finely woven cotton. The trim, a striking gold material, frames the traditional pattern from the war-torn country.
“It’s fantastic, it’s so beautiful,” Goudie says.
It was a gift from Emmi Rezk who, along with her husband Dr Adib Essali, left their homeland three years ago to make a life in the quiet streets of Thames.
Their private practice in Damascus and their home in the mountains were destroyed.
They were nearly killed when mortar shells hit their building less than two minutes after they’d walked out.
Their three children fled to the United States, Britain and Dubai while Essali secured a contract as a psychiatrist at Thames Hospital.
“We are really happy here, we have lots of friends, ” Rezk says, “the only thing we miss is the family, we don’t have family here.
“My children are scattered all over the world and this is really sad. They left because it was not safe anymore for them. I can’t talk about it because it’s too upsetting.”
Rezk’s sisters, brother, and 83-year-old mother, who suffers from Parkinsons disease, remain in Syria. She worries about them.
“You keep remembering everybody in every single second – your patients, your workmates, the neighbours.
“The social media is really a good way of communicating but it is virtual, the real life is totally different.”
The family left almost all their belongings behind. Rezk said she was able to bring only a few small treasures with her.
“We didn’t think about bringing anything. I brought only my coffee pot because it’s important for me in the morning.”
Their belongings are still in their Damascus home. Because their home is in a sensitive area, it is repeatedly bombed – the most recent bombing was two months ago. All their windows blew out.
One of Rezk’s treasures was the black robe.
It’s traditionally worn by women in the afternoon when they have visitors. It symbolises friendship.
Rezk’s friends sent it from Damascus for a special luncheon in Thames on May 27 to raise funds for the Family Protection Society in Damascus and Family Safety Services in Thames.
It’s too soon to know how much was raised at the luncheon, where fifteen volunteers from Thames – Zonta Club members and Syrians, served nearly 100 people a traditional Syrian lunch.
“Not everyone wears such a robe,” Rezk said.
“During the event I thought about giving it to the council to say thank you on behalf of the Syrians and, of course, the whole volunteers team.”
Goudie accepted it graciously. She plans to wear it to her next official outing.
Eventually, she wants to govern the district while wearing three robes – the Syrian robe, a Steampunk robe – complete with hat – and an undergraduate gown that she plans to trim with gold material to represent the town’s association with gold mining.
The luncheon, called “Thames cooks for Syria”, was her first real insight into and development of a relationship with people from Syria, she said.
“We’re so far removed from what’s happening on the other side of the world.”
The conflict is still “incredibly raw” for Syrians now living in New Zealand.
“While people are here, they still worry about the loved ones back home,” Goudie says.
“And of course, they are incredibly saddened by the loss of their historic artefacts, buildings, things that have been destroyed.”