Habib Haghjoo’s girls are returning home.
The bodies of Sahar Haghjoo, 37, and her eight-year-old daughter, Elsa Jadidi, will land in Toronto on Saturday, Haghjoo said of his daughter and granddaughter who were on the Ukrainian flight that was shot down by Iran forces earlier this month.
“It’s going to break me badly,” he said through tears. “I know my heart is going to bleed inside, but I will be strong. I’ll do my best.”
The pair’s remains were identified last weekend, he said, and Sahar Haghjoo’s husband, Siamak Jadidi, resisted the Iranian government’s repeated requests to bury them in Iran.
“We think the minimum right is to have my kids close to me and my family,” Habib Haghjoo said.
The Iranian government relented, he said.
Habib Haghjoo spoke to his daughter nearly every day, even texting with her while the pair was on the doomed plane waiting for take off. She sent a selfie. Both mother and daughter were smiling – Elsa wearing a pink sparkly shirt, Sahar in a yellow and grey hijab.
Time has stopped for Habib Haghjoo since the plane crashed on Jan. 8. He can’t escape thoughts of his “girls,” as he calls them. The only reprieve comes at the pool of the local Y, where he swims 500 metres every day.
Little things trip him up – he cannot stand using the past tense when talking about them.
“I don’t say they did, I say they do,” he said. “I want to believe they are with me, but are just far away.”
Habib Haghjoo and his wife left Iran in 1987 and moved to Ireland where he began working as a computer programmer. Sahar – the couple’s third daughter – was just five years old when they left their home country. Her younger sister would soon be born in Ireland.
One day while waiting for a meeting in Dublin, Habib Haghjoo decided to visit the Canadian Embassy. Inside he found a copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“I read it and sort of fell in love,” he said. “Probably that’s a land I can raise my kids and family better.”
So he applied for a visa and two years, in 1991, they moved to Toronto. Canada was in the middle of a recession that year, and Habib Haghjoo had thought he made a mistake. But his wife implored him to stay.
So they stayed, settling in Richmond Hill, Ont.
That’s where Sahar met and became friends with Mina Mozaffarian, who is the principal of Wali ul Asr, an Islamic school in east Toronto that Elsa attended.
“I’m still in disbelief,” Mozaffarian said. “She (Elsa) was incredibly bright … She was one of our best readers.”
Elsa’s grandfather, like any proud relative, said she was going places.
“We say she’ll be a minister, if not prime minister,” Habib Haghjoo said.
Elsa was the couple’s only child, but Sahar had recently confided in Mozaffarian that she wanted another child.
The school is struggling to cope with the loss, but a drawing by Elsa has helped soothe the pain and ease the difficulty of discussing her death with her classmates.
A few months ago, Elsa drew a picture of heaven. After she died, a photo of the artwork began making the rounds at school.
It shows a beaming Elsa holding a large white poster with the words, in letters the colours of the rainbow, “Life in Heavin.”
She drew three mosques: one of the mosque of the prophet’s family, another with the words “Pray Salah” and the third that recognizes the Qur’an. Butterflies flutter near a palm tree with a bounty of coconuts. A creek flows along one edge. And a sun shines brightly on the entire scene.
“It does give people a little bit of comfort that she visualized something so wonderful that will be her reward to be in a good place,” Mozaffarian said.
The school’s director, Syed Adil, said the image has helped the students.
“It provides us an opportunity to talk with students to live your life and make sure you’re a source of kindness, just like Elsa,” he said.
Habib Haghjoo saw the artwork for the first time on Friday.
“I think both of them are laughing at us from Heaven,” he said.
The federal government has been good to Habib Haghjoo, he said, with Global Affairs calling daily with updates on their efforts to repatriate the remains of “his girls.”
“I never was as proud to be Canadian as I am today,” he said. “I love, love, love this frozen soil. The weather is bad, but I love it.”
He wants the entire country to come to the pair’s burials on Sunday, which begins at 10 a.m. at the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre north of Toronto, because he says Canadians have been so kind to his family.
For his part, he is trying to remain positive despite believing “these beautiful souls were murdered.”
“This is their message,” he said. “Just look at another person as a human and love everyone.”
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