Through the small, oval window over my left shoulder, I craned my neck to see the little cars, sparsely spaced, moving along a huge highway far below on the ground. As the noisy Boeing-707 descended further, I looked at Toronto on the horizon.
“Shit,” I said. “There are no hills, no mountains – how can you live in a city so flat?” The place looked like a giant forest with a few buildings scattered in it. I had never seen a big city with this much green.
This was my first impression of Toronto on the afternoon of Friday, July 2nd 1971. Flat, quiet, boring, green, but for me it held a great promise. Actually, this was the only promise I had left in my life: a promise of peace, a promise of a future, who knows, maybe a promise of happiness. Finally, at age twenty, I had made it here. There was no going back to my troubled homeland, ever.
Growing up was easy for me. I was surrounded by loving parents, an older brother who happened to be the best brother in the world, an older sister, and many aunts and uncles. I was immersed in love during my childhood in Istanbul.
This was interrupted when I turned eleven. My father told me that I must take an entrance exam for the best secondary school in the country, its curriculum in German. I ranked twenty-first out of a thousand or so children who sat for this exam. My mom and my sister took me to this school on the first day. They set up my bed with sheets and a pillow that they had brought from home. The dorm room was immense, about one hundred beds.
For a while, I thought that if I did really well, I would be allowed back home. Three months later, I was able to speak, read and write German. Shortly after that, we started covering German literature: Kafka, Böll, Dürrenmatt, Schiller, Goethe. I worked hard to master it.
Eventually, it dawned on me that I was never going back home. During the first year, I cried every night. I was scared that someone would find out and make fun of me. No one did. Many years later at a class reunion, I discovered that we had all drowned in the same pain.
My pillow was my new home. It remained home for the rest of my life.