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Saturday, February 24, 2018

A decade in Toronto – 6

2009 was our first new year in Toronto and it began with a lot of promise. I started my program in journalism at the Sheridan College in Oakville. I was returning to school after a gap of over 25 years. The journalism class comprised students who were just like me – practising or former journalists from across the world who were trying to get a toehold in the profession in Canada.

It was ironic that after nearly two decades in journalism, both as a working journalist and as a teacher, I was returning to journalism as a student. But I was keen to learn and unlearn. The Sheridan college campus at Oakville was as impressive as any that I’d seen or imagined, and the most interesting part of it all was the daily commute from Toronto to Oakville on the GO train.

With Yoko, Nelson and Mike at Sheridan
The class comprised students from South America, the Caribbean, South Asia, Japan, and Africa - an interesting bunch of highly talented individuals, who were extremely independent-minded and like most journalists were not natural team players. 

Some became great friends during the duration of the course of the program. Yoko Morgenstern and Nelson Alvarado Jourde are friends I dearly miss.  Yoko is in Germany and visits Toronto infrequently, Nelson is back in Peru, and I haven’t met him in years.

The teachers were all equally interesting; Teenaz Javat is now a friend. She is a Bombayite who has had the privilege of working as a journalist in India and Pakistan. I have fond memories of Patricia Bradbury. She made the classroom come alive with her engaging, animated teaching. She also introduced us to Katherine Govier, the renowned and accomplished author, and now an activist for swifter, seamless integration of immigrants into the Canadian mainstream.

Of course, the hero of the program was Joyce Wayne, the program coordinator of the Canadian Journalism for Internationally Trained Journalists. A veteran professor, extremely well-read, a true heart liberal, with a permanent glint of mischief in her eyes, Joyce propelled the program to great heights and constantly challenged its participants to strive to do better.  One of my regrets (and I have many) was not to have done English literature at the university. With Joyce at Sheridan, I finally found a mentor who was as interested in literature as I am.

It was an evening program, so I had to change my shift timing and I returned to the night shift at the condo. After a while the hectic schedule became strenuous, and by April 2009, it was impossible for me to get enough sleep during the day, go to Sheridan in the evening, and then do the night shift at the condo. On a couple of occasions, the patrol who roamed around in a vehicle at night caught me napping.  I decided to quit my job as a security guard.

I was confident that at the end of the Sheridan program, I’d at least get an internship placement somewhere. A major lacuna in the Sheridan program was the absence of a design component. To complete that gap, I joined the Yorkdale Adult Learning Centre’s web designing program; a free program meant for newcomers.  It was an enriching experience. I was now spending several hours at a high school had both eager adult newcomer students and regular school students who were my son’s age.  

Yorkdale group

At Yorkdale, I met a bunch of fun-loving group of Latinos from South America. The classroom had students of all ages and from everywhere – Africa, South Asia, South America, Eastern Europe – all of us sharing a sort of desperation: of getting a proper job. I wrote about my encounter with two religiously devout fellow students.  Click here to read: Question of identity.

Around the same time, I also joined a memoir writing workshop conducted by Allyson Latta at the North York branch of the Toronto public library. After quitting my security guard job, I had the entire day free for myself. Latta’s class was a perfect fit for me; the sessions taught me to look inside myself for stories. Click here to read about Latta’s memoir writing sessions: Allyson Latta.

When Che turned 12, Mahrukh began working at a telemarketing company but was inexplicably laid off, despite doing well. Then, she worked as a data entry operator but the two-people company, operating from a basement on Dufferin and Lawrence disappeared when it was time to pay wages. She was singularly unfortunate in getting steady, sustainable employment; it caused her immense frustration, but she remained cheerful despite the adverse circumstances.

We didn’t let these reversals deter us from exploring our neighbourhoods. On weekends, we’d get into the GO bus or the GO train and go to different towns near Toronto. Even when we were still to know the lay of the land, we did an open-top bus ride in Toronto, within a month of our arrival. On my first birthday in Toronto, we went to the Niagara Falls; it was all that we thought it’d be, and then some.  The most memorable part of our trip: The butterfly garden; we’d never seen anything as exotic and exciting as this garden.  

For me, there can be nothing more exciting than riding the streetcars in the rains. We’ve done the Queen Street streetcar ride more frequently than we’d care to remember – all the way from Long Branch to Neville Park. That year (2009) we went to our first Toronto Auto Show and continued doing so for the next few years. 

When I recall the number of road trips that we did in our early years, the one that stays etched in my mind is the one to Stouffville, ON, to take rides on the model trains.  Click here to read about it: Day trip. Some years later, the federal government used extracts from this blog in its booklet for newcomers.

I was increasingly veering towards writing and started working on freelance assignments for the Canadian Immigrant and the New Canadian magazines. I had also begun work on improving and updating my short story that I’d written in December.  In May 2009, I sent the short story to Diaspora Dialogues, a Toronto not-for-profit that promotes creative expressions in diverse people. This simple act of courage (courage because rejections can be depressing) was to change my life.

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