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Belonging in Toronto
I was mesmerized by how close the Iranian community in Canada is

By Nikoo
October 16, 2002
The Iranian

I felt a strange mixed emotion when the plain landed at Toronto's Pearson airport. I must say I had quite an interesting journey, apart from the hundreds of babies on the plane that took turns performing Beethoven symphonies. But all in all there was not much to complain about. Much like being in Autobus-e Shamsolemareh!

Having decided out of the blue that I needed a holiday and putting every effort in getting out of London even if it was just for a week, I managed to pull a few strings and get my holiday authorized from work. Deadline or no deadline I couldn't take it anymore.

Often at this time of the year, around full moon, I become overwhelmed with the urge to pack up my belongings in a red-spotted handkerchief, tie them to the end of a stick and walk off into the distance. Instead I am on a plane and I did pack a suitcase -- much more civilized than a handkerchief and my Nan Barbari and Panir Tabriz!

Can't understand where I got this craving from? It started all very nicely, even got compliments from the lady next to me. After a few minutes of talking to me she said, "How did your mother let you travel alone?" What did she mean? Having felt quite sensitive about my age since my last birthday, I felt a tingly feeling in my stomach and smiled.

"How old do you think I am?" I said with a fixed smile.

"Oh...17, 18."

Was I hearing right? I wanted to kiss her. For the love of god, good woman. Can I hire you as my ego booster? I couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the flight.

Being a Londoner, it is rather strange to see the person in the next seat talking to us, whether on a bus, train, or plane. So I was not only amused by this Indian-Canadian couple's friendliness but also loved them to pieces for having thought I am somewhat 10 years younger than I already am. I even got invited to a BBQ at their house next weekend in the suburbs of Toronto, which I duly accepted.

I tried to read for a while or at least get some sleep but I had all these strange thoughts playing ball in my head. You must have noticed most airlines have an interesting seating arrangement on their planes. They number the rows, but when they get to 12 they skip straight on to 14. Too many passengers (including me of course), feel nervous about sitting in the 13th row. Just the thought of being away from home on Friday the 13th was giving me jitters.

This begs an interesting question. Can we really keep the forces of fate and fortune at bay just by renumbering and renaming? What is it about 13 that gets to us? I know people who refuse to leave work at 5:13 and rather wait another couple of minutes, miss their train and wait half an hour for another. What is all that about?

Perhaps I should take a detour via the pet shop. Buy my own black cat and train it to walk under my feet wherever I go. This will provide permanent protection from all future Friday the Thirteenths.

It's strange really. We live in a supposedly sophisticated world, yet we are gripped by illogical fears and fantasies. Our ideas may be intelligent but our beliefs have changed little since the Stone Age. We seem blinded to see the wonderful new way to look at a tired situation. And we are too biased to see it. My thoughts -- and more importantly advanced plans -- were interrupted by the pilot's announcement on how hot it is in Toronto (30 degrees!) and we will be there in 15 minutes? Woohoo!

The immigration officer welcomed me very sweetly even after having seen my luxurious Iranian passport, which baffled me even more. Having traveled around Europe, one gets used to funny looks and reading the thoughts of the immigration officers that "she must be a spy" as my passport photo is rather scary. I was greeted by my best friend who has recently moved to Canada, and a friend I met last year on my trip to Vancouver. First impression of Toronto was "I like Vancouver better, but hiss.... don't tell anyone."

We had a picnic planned at a Niagara Falls. When I say picnic I mean we packed cheese and Vodka! You can imagine by the time we parked in the little town of Niagara, I could see stars around my head. Quite expected from drinking straight vodka out of a bottle! And not to mention I was still jetlagged. The scenery was beautiful. It's a breathtaking view that makes you think, "Is this all a figment of my imagination? Is this the right page I'm looking at?"

We seem to have a tendency to only see the things we want to see and shut out the rest of the world, but here you see the depth of creativity and power, and you ask yourself how and why? There was a potent diabolical archetype lurking inside us all, I thought as I noticed the conversation among people was roaming on god, religion and who believes in what.

It certainly was an experience just exploring, not to mention the casino and other entertainment centers in town. The bunch of people I was with were a mixture of my friends, their friends and friends of the friends. And it was certainly an experience to view how these creatures of different habits came together.

Imagine what this world would be like if we all understood one another. No soap operas, no comedies of errors. No diplomats, no translators, no interpreters. Diversity makes life interesting. It provides excitement and keeps us on our toes. It makes the world go round. That, and perhaps also, disagreement. You can't beat a bit of conflict for sparking off an adventure. But we all, every so often, have to reach harmony.

We had a resident of the cloud-cuckoo-land! We had mortals with rose-coloured glasses as they peered wistfully through the window of hope onto the street of dreams! I will stop here before I bore you to hell! But you have to admit creativity is wonderful stuff. It takes us into territory we might otherwise never explore. It picks us up, turns us around, surprises us and inspires us.

We often speak of "creative types" as if they were a world apart but even if we aren't all writers or designers, we are born to be creative. It is a need as powerful and real as the need to sleep or eat. So where is the outlet for our imagination? Are we conjuring up unnecessary fears just to keep the inventive side of our brain busy?

I looked at the double rainbow and thought to myself, "There really, truly is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow." I can say this without fear of contradiction because nobody can ever prove otherwise. All of us, no matter how logical and scientific we may be, base our lives on a series of such assumptions. We believe in things that sound good - and those notions keep us going.

That's just fine and dandy. What though, if there is a pot of gold, right beneath your feet? And what if you fail to see it because you are so busy chasing the mythical one at the rainbow's end? I am glad I came and I am glad I didn't miss this opportunity. And happy that I didn't let it take over me on the road.

Is my created opportunity as good as the one that might otherwise have come into my life? The answer, as I discovered while taking pictures of the maid of the mist, was that opportunities are more like taxis. You can flag them down wherever you are.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of the mist. I wanted to capture the whole thing, wanted to bring a piece back with me. Most of all wanted to run away from the reality that I eventually have to come back to. These are not lasting moments.

We eventually left Niagara at 2 o'clock in the morning after having walked around the town for two hours looking for the cars. We didn't get lost. After dinner we decided to take a short cut and not cross the whole town back to the parking lot. So here I am pointing at the mini CN tower, telling everyone: "Ageh ino begirim berim miresim be maashin." And guess what? They listened to me. Big mistake. Imagine 12 people walking down the now very quiet streets of this little town singing joyfully. And they weren't even drunk.

I suppose "danbelo dinbol" is kind of in our blood. But two hours is a long time and I have captured most of it on camera. From "Gole bi goldoon" to "Ki ashkhaato paak mikoneh", we eventually ran out of songs we could all remember, and after singing "Tooye yek divaare sangi" three times, someone came up with "Shod jomhooriyeh Eslaami be paa"! And being the children of the revolution, we knew that one, word by word!

It's amazing when the things you have run away from way across the Atlantic come back to you. Is it the mixed feeling of coming back to our natural habitat no matter where we are? Or is our generation in a limbo?

Later in the week I met an old friend of mine from junior school (raahnamaee). It was wonderful to see how little has changed. She was exactly the way I remembered her. We might have changed as we have grown to have different beliefs, goals and plans. But deep down it felt like the same 14-year-old girls who used to make fun of our Arabic teacher and spend most of class time outside in detention!

I remember she used to be very good in calligraphy. I suppose she was the artistic type unlike me. She's now studying fashion design, so still the artistic one. Tanhaa honare man dorost kardan nimro hast and I don't even do that very well.

She took me to see the CN tower and we had lunch in the restaurant on the top of the tower. The view of the city from that height was fantastic. We took pictures on the glass floor and we even had our picture taken with a CN tower wallpaper behind us. We looked a lot like my grandmother's pictures of Mashad and Imam Reza's shrine!

The rest of the week I spend the days exploring what they call downtown -- our westend so to speak. I shopped and sipped Margaritas with my friends out there. But it wasn't working. My friend's husband used to get fresh Nan Barbari from the Iranian shop (there are many of them in Toronto -- like a little Tehran). Breakfasts were exactly the way I was planning to have them as I was thinkinng on the plane!

I was mesmerized by how close the Iranian community is over there, unlike what we see here in England. No one would say: "shshsh... hichi nagoo inaa irooni hastan." Instead you hear people greeting each other warmly. Who knows, one day they might even become good friends.

It was rather nice to see how people can get along even when they are coming from different backgrounds. Every friend I was introduced to seemed to find someone who knew someone they knew. I envied them in a way. I have never been to one place long enough to have that luxury. I was surprised to see how people feel they belong to a place.

Canado-Iranians -- sorry I don't know what else to call them -- amazed me in showing the feeling that they belong. "We" was constantly used -- "we do things this way here" and "we go to these places at these times" and... I know people who are born in England or have lived there for over 30 years but you can still catch them say "Englisihaa injoorian" and "Englisihaa oonjoorian". It's good not to have a feeling of being a stranger and beat the sadness of "ghorbat".

On the last night of my stay in Toronto, after a day of serious "soghaati" shopping, I was blessed with the gathering of my friends. A goodbye party was organised in my honour. That was rather sweet considering that I was a bit of a bore throughout the week, deep in my thoughts and trying to analyse everything around me -- not to mention deciding to re-evaluate my life on Friday the 13th.

All's well that ends well, or so they say. Yet few things in this world ever seem to come to an end. Our stories, our dramas just trundle on relentlessly. There are some that say that to take up residence in a human body is to be given a life sentence. If so, it is a sentence with many commas and no full stops. I am not saying I am after happy-ever-after!. No, just happy-for-the-time-being.

I left Toronto after 10 days. On my arrival at Heathrow airport, I felt an empty rush through my stomach. When I found my way through the queue where it said "Other Passports" , I felt the emptiness of "ghorbat" and I missed the aroma that gave me the feeling of being surrounded by people who would simply take me for what I am and don't care about what passport I carry.

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