Historic Joy Kogawa House, the childhood home of the Japanese-Canadian writer, like other residencies is a sanctuary for writers. I had a quiet place to unleash my imagination, a garden to enjoy, apples and raspberries to pick and flowers to watch while picking words to tell my story, a story of Kurds.
For three months, I got to write all day, to read all night, free of daily responsibilities of my Toronto life. I taught a Teen Writing Workshop and loved my students and the stories they shared. I judged a short story contest and gained some insight into the semi-arbitrary nature of prizes. We each had a favourite story before entering the meeting and defended them; thus, the 5 winners.
I met many people, made new friends and learned from them. I read in public, from my published book, Echoes from the Other Land, and the manuscript I had been working on, Many Cunning Passages. The audience seemed to be deeply moved by the reading I offered from my work-in-progress, a reading accompanied by cello and piano. Their reaction gave me a thrill, even though I am not sure if my work gets the credit or the music. Here is the video
Yet the response, secretly and maybe just in vain, gave me hope that my novel is working, that after three years and three months of my soul’s perspiration it’s finally coming together, becoming slightly presentable.
I met Kurdish Women’s group of Mosaic and listened to their stories, interviewed a Kurdish freedom fighter about his years in Turkey as an asylum-seeker and the brutality of the Turkish police. A woman, an ex-political-prisoner told me the condition for her freedom at age 20 was to get married in 3 months. I also talked to a family who were part of the Al-Tash camp, the camp B'aas government sent the Iranian Kurds to during the 8-years war with Iran.
I enjoyed a Chines traditional music concert and two operas but the one that touched me the most was “Naomi’s Road,” an opera based on Joy Kogawa’s children book, a performance that showed/sang/narrated the story of the Japanese-Canadians who were sent to camps during the war. Why should that choke up a Kurd? The alienation, being sent to exile, being perceived as a threat, treated as a foe….all resonated too profoundly, triggered a historic pain-body.
In the evenings and weekends, I biked, paddled, hiked, rode a boat, swam and was filled with veneration for the breathtakingly beautiful province of British Columbia. Every couple of week new flowers bloomed _mostly blue, “goli shin,” a phenomenon Kurds thought to be imaginary. From every corner of the city, green mountains greeted me, the generous ocean shone brightly and it’s sound healed and exhilarated my soul. The many gardens there, the ferries, the wild life, the mild weather, even the gentle raindrops filled me with life, with appreciation, with awe.
Like Kurdistan, Vancouver was mountainous, unlike Kurdistan, the mountains were green all-year-round. BC mountains, however, never brim with bright poppy fields the way mountains in Mariwan do.
Like my childhood in Sanandaj, I got to pick strawberries, eat them unwashed, get thrilled by my little act of defiance, have a tummy ache at the end and laugh at it. Unlike strawberry pickings of Kurdistan, my parents weren’t there, my brothers, Ako and Azad, were absent. My spouse, Ehsan, however, listened patiently to my nostalgic memories.
Now I am back, in the home that I missed. Although satisfied with the experience and happy beside the man whom I adore and came back to, who loves and protects me, I realize how each hike, each walk under the soft rain, cleansed and detoxed me, how the busy life of Capitalism poisons us all gradually, kills us noiselessly.
In the face of my stressed-out Toronto friends, in the loud honks on the streets, the cut-offs of the drivers, the rush, the anger, the frustration, the desperate cling to eating and drinking, I see a mirror that reflects my situation before Vancouver and before Kogawa House. This is what I used to be, how I used to feel.
I can’t help but to wonder if it is possible not to fall in that trap again? How? How much longer before I am putrefied again with stress, with irritation, within the city that keep shouting that “not enough. You can’t afford this, can’t afford that. Go back to more work from work. Now work some more. Spend hours in traffic and lose patience. Drag your exhausted body around and find solace in things that damage your soul. What is a soul, anyway? It doesn't even exist.”
I put on my gardening gloves and hit the back yard. I resist.