Sitting in front of the TV, age 6, mouth open and barely eating my dinner, I watched the quintessential American sitcom with my parents. A mother called out to her kids for Sunday breakfast; pancakes, of course. Living in Cyprus, that was the first time I had ever ‘seen’ a pancake. For some reason, I was mesmerized by its shape and texture, and blurted out in front of my parents ‘I just know I’m going to like pancakes.’ My father stared at me, perplexed, but never one to shy away from a challenge he took it upon himself to create the perfect pancake for his youngest daughter.
I never realized this at the time, but that offhand comment brought about one of my favorite memories from my childhood; the summer of the pancake. True to his word, my dad spent that entire summer creating the perfect pancake. He tried various ingredients and cooking methods (at one point even deep frying the pancake out of sheer frustration, even though he very well knew a pancake was never deep fried). But my reaction was always the same. I would take one bite, shake my head and say ‘That’s not it.’ Of course, that was usually followed by the same complaint ‘How do you know? You’ve never been to America or tasted a real pancake’ my dad would ask loudly. To which I would always reply with as much wisdom a 6 year old pull could off ‘I…just..know.’
At the end of that summer he gave up. But I continued to dream of the pancake for the rest of the year and the day I’d move to the US. Years passed and I forgot about it. I moved countries, tried all kinds of exotic foods and generally had a blast. Then finally, in 2001, I moved to the US (specifically NYC) to join my sister who had moved here a year earlier.
I didn’t choose the best day to move to NYC. My first day in NYC (and the US) turned out to be Sept 11, 2001. Despite the fear and chaos around me, to this day, I am still impressed by the empathy of New Yorkers who would overhear my sister telling her friends ‘This is her first day in the US’ and come over to tell me ‘Sorry you caught us on a bad day. Don’t leave. New York’s a great place to live!’
That was a day unlike any other and we were one of the fortunate ones to get out unharmed. My sister and her friends were able to get hold of a car and drive out of the city. As we drove out of NYC into NJ, my sister suggested we stop at a diner and get something to eat. Sitting at a typical American diner, thankful to be alive, memories of my childhood came flooding back when I opened the menu and saw ‘Pancakes’ on the menu. I knew what I wanted to order.
That was my first day in the US and the first day I had an American pancake – which tasted exactly how I expected it to taste and looked exactly how I had seen on TV. There sitting in an American diner, with my first American friends whose optimism amazed me, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. I knew I belonged.
That was 13 years ago. I am still living in the US and loving it (as the jingle of McDonalds goes). Now a proud American citizen, I often look back to my first day and try to remember, if I had any doubts or regrets about my move. I didn’t. Even on Sept 11, a day of devastation, I knew I was here to stay. I knew I had finally come home.