By Shiromi Santhakumar
Published on December 8, 2014

Sri Lanka. Image submitted by Shiromi Santhakumar.

In July 2004, my mother, sister, brother and I prepared for our departure from Sri Lanka. We packed the brand new clothes we purchased from the well-known stores in Colombo along with the dried fish we purchased from the local fishery.

Eleven years old at the time, I was going across the globe to reunite with my father after three years. Despite the excitement, I worried about what I was leaving behind in Sri Lanka. We said our farewells, and rode in the rented van to the airport.

Walking towards the boarding zone, we were ordered to line up at the security checkup. As I took off my shoes, I remember noticing that most people there had the familiar faces of people of Sri Lankan and Indian descent. Probably not so in Canada. I thought about how my life would change.

Air Canada was unlike the Sri Lankan Airline. The flight attendant did not speak Tamil or Sinhalese, but spoke in English and French. The passengers were diverse; I saw many people who were white, black, or Asian. I wondered how these people communicated with each other. Were they born in Canada? Did they immigrate like me? How will I learn French?

* * *

Holding my hand tightly, my mother hurried towards our next flight boarding area, with my siblings following behind. I remember the people in Germany seemed hostile. The airport security was solemn and intimidating. The white travelers ignored my family’s presence and did not return my smiles.

Airplane Seat. Image submitted by Shiromi Santhakumar.

The next Air Canada flight was much larger. Each seat had a personal television, just like the business class seats on Sri Lankan airlines. Struggling to stow my heavy carry-on, I was grateful when a stranger’s hand reached over and helped me. A white woman about my mother’s age smiled at me warmly and sat in the empty seat beside me.

As we floated above the clouds, I gained a new kind of confidence and managed to start a conversation with her. She was so kind. She helped me pick food and asked questions about me. I had thought that white people were cold, only interacted with other white people, and looked down on others like me. Not this woman. I was wrong.

As the plane got ready to land, I dared to peek outside the window. I remember seeing the brightly lit building through the darkness.

We cleared the efficient immigration line, collected our luggage, and made our way through the entrance leading into the waiting area. I saw a large group of familiar faces. My father, uncles, aunts and cousins all waited for us.

I ran to my father first. He said, “Welcome to Canada! You’re going to love it here!”

As I stepped out and into the cold grass, memories of Sri Lanka rose up. Canada is my home now. When will I make myself at home here?

* * *

Shiromi presenting her story at the Second Annual Reading of On the Move in April 2014.

Shiromi presenting her story at the Second Annual Reading of On the Move in April 2014.

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