The life of this young family might have continued, largely unchanged, but the Great Wave of Emigration had come calling at Fannie and Sam’s doorstep. Some of their friends were packing and some were already writing wonderful letters from that mysterious country, Canada.
“You see,” Fannie was saying to her husband, “Mike and Anna are living in a three-bedroom apartment, and what do we have? Just this two-room flat! And they have two cars too: a Ford and a Chrysler! And what are you driving, Sam? A run-down Lada!”
Friends from Sam’s old college days were coming to visit them to discuss and to compare life here and there. In the Soviet Union, they were facing an absence of freedom of creativity, a minuscule salary, and no possibility of promotion. But over there, in the West…
Even Fannie’s parents were by now urging them to leave the country. “In this country, we have no future,” her father was saying. “OK, we’re making good money but in a normal country we would be respectable businessmen; here we’re considered to be crooks! We have to be careful not to spend an extra ruble for fear of attracting the attention of the government authorities and the police. I want to sleep at night without worrying whether I’ll be arrested tomorrow! You two go, find out what’s what over there and in a year, we’ll follow!”
Documents were gathered, applications submitted, the condo was sold, and the great packing had begun! The government only allowed emigrants to take ninety dollars per person and the remaining money had to be converted into linens, cameras, beads, toys, and other kinds of strange objects. They knew that they would have to stay in Italy several months and all these items would have to be sold there at the local market. It was the only way to enter their destination country with some dollars. Some of their friends who had already reached Italy were sending back long lists of mandatory things to be brought there.
After three months of anxious waiting, Sam’s family had finally been granted permission to leave the Ukraine and only one month to do so. Vienna, Rome – the next six months were a blur, but finally three new landed immigrants reached Toronto, Canada. Fannie and Sam were twenty-seven years old, and little Janna was just four at that time.
The first thing they discovered was that the reality was vastly at odds from what they had expected. The letters they’d been reading back home took on a rather different meaning. Mike and Anna were not as successful as it seemed from Kiev. They were living in a shabby apartment building where the majority of immigrants were starting their new lives because the rent was reasonable.
In fact, their friends were not successful at all! The immigrants who had a success in starting a good business or landing a decent job were moving out of that dreary building and into their own houses or at least into better apartments within two to three years, yet their friends had been living in Toronto for four years already and had not moved to any better housing! And they were driving ten-year-old wrecks! Furthermore, for three of those four years they had had no idea what to do and had been living on welfare and delivering pizza for cash! Only recently, Mike had started to drive a truck and Anna had begun to do manicures and pedicures in her apartment for other fellow-immigrants.
Fannie was shocked. Back home in Kiev, Mike had been a restaurant manager and Anna was an engineer! How low they had fallen! This will never happen to us, determined Fannie thought to herself.
On that first arrival evening Fannie and Sam had thousands of questions to ask; however, Mike didn’t let them get a word in edgewise. He was preoccupied explaining that he was selling soap and vitamins and that these products would make him a millionaire in a year! And if Fannie and Sam knew what was good for them, they would be doing the same. All they had to do was to sign up under him in his marketing organization and new-found wealth was guaranteed! The hapless newcomers had no idea what Mike was talking about. Finally, after buying a single box of over-priced soap from Mike, they were left alone in their confused and troubled state of mind.
What cruel twists of fate immigration brings upon decent people! That was the rapidly formed consensus viewpoint of both Fannie and Sam.
One day, Mike and Anna took the new Canadians for a driving tour around Toronto. They visited the CN Tower, City Hall and Chinatown, but it was the Forest Hill and Post Road streets that really impressed Fannie. It was hard to fathom that each of those outwardly opulent mansions were for only one family! Fannie observed the huge castle-like structures surrounded by manicured lawns colorful flower beds and imagined herself as the owner of one of them. That’s where I belong, Fannie mused. I was made for such a life.