The conferences I attend often blur into a single memory of panels and lectures and workshops. Sometimes, one will stand out because of a single person — a presenter, a host, and attendee, an observer — who makes me stop and think a little: think about why I am there, what I have done to get there, and what I will do once I leave.
I don’t quite remember the name of the conference where I met Libaan. It was in DC, about eight years ago, and had something to do with international diplomacy, but that’s all I can really remember about the conference itself. But I remember Libaan. He was wearing a yellow tie and wore his name tag on the right side of his shirt. He smiled, all the time. I couldn’t help but introduce myself.
Libaan was a visiting student from Mogadishu, in DC for a 4-month study-abroad stint. It wasn’t long until he found out that I was from Toronto. His face lit up:
“You’re from Toronto? Do you know Dixon?”
I chuckled. For most people in Toronto, Dixon Road is just one of those streets you take when getting to the airport. Nothing special. For me, however, it was home.
My parents moved into a building at the corner of Kipling and Dixon, in the northwest of the city, in 1992. The apartment was the first piece of property they had ever owned together, after renting for years in New York and Toronto, and it remains where they live now, eighteen years later. Those six buildings in Etobicoke — a neighborhood that the city of Toronto calls Kingsview Village, but most residents simply call Dixon — were home for me until I left in 1999 and several summers after that as I went through college, and still feel like home every time I go back to visit my parents.
Dixon is a popular home base for immigrant families. Back when my parents first moved in, the area was populated predominantly by Somali immigrants. The proximity to the airport and to many excellent community and municipal services (including free day camps, sports lessons, settlement helpers, English classes, and more) makes the neighborhood a natural first stop when arriving in Toronto. Since the wave of Somali immigration, the neighborhood has seen influxes of newcomers from all across the world, most recently a large Mauritian community.
I knew Dixon, and I knew it well. When I told Libaan, he couldn’t contain his excitement:
“Back home, everyone knows Dixon. When things aren’t going well, and we want to leave, we tell ourselves, ‘one day, I will move to Dixon and everything will be okay.’ Dixon is where I will move with my family one day to start a life in Canada.”
To me, Dixon was an apartment that my parents owned that was much too far from downtown where so many of my friends lived. I had never thought of it as a place of hope, a place of aspiration, or a place where people felt like they could start a new life.
Libaan helped me realize that I was going back home not just to an apartment in dire need of renovation, but to a place that held so much promise for so many people:
“When you go home, tell everyone in Dixon that I say hi. Tell Dixon that I am coming, soon.”
I never did find out if he ever made it to Toronto, but I was sure to send the neighborhood his regards.