A Man’s Shoes

By Soaad Shhab (+Video)


In the waiting room of the Toronto Airport, I realized that my long flight was about to come to an end, and that finally I had a place to put my feet.

I gave myself a minute to look at my bitter memories. I remembered that I had not said goodbye to all the Cities of the Sun where I lived and through which I journeyed.

I was supposed to come to Canada a week earlier. Instead, I spent 24 hours in the security room of the Beirut airport and missed my flight. My children were taken from me during this time. I could see my nine-year-old son Hamza crying and my heart was breaking.

I am a refugee from war, not an outlaw, but the airport security officials see it as the same thing.

During my stay in the security room, I saw many people in similar situations like mine. They told me their stories and what happened to them. Many of us were considered to be illegal. I felt angry and sad for all of us. As the other people were slowly allowed to go, I was left behind alone. Waiting, waiting, waiting…for 12 more hours.

I was left behind because I have no citizenship, only a permanent resident passport from Syria. I was born in Damascus, but my parents were Palestinians. Palestine, my “home” country, was only ever my father’s memories of the roses and the wheat. Images which he planted in me. But I have no home there and was only ever considered a refugee in Syria. In the security room it was clear there was no place for me in Lebanon either.

I have never felt that I had a country. At this time all I had was myself and my visa to Canada. Because I had this I was finally allowed to go out into the airport and reunite with my children. I paid a fine and was given a travel permit to Canada. One week later we could leave Beirut.

So I left Beirut without farewell.

I look back further in my memories, to Al Mayadin where I lived for 18 years. It is one of the old cities that were once along the Silk Route and a land of palm trees. Then it became home to ISIS. From the Euphrates River to Al Mayadin they forged a path of destruction, ruining thousands of years of history and stunting the future.

They think they have a divine right! But this right has expired!

I used to work in Al Mayadin as a teacher…until ISIS came, and all the schools were closed. Some of us formed a secret school in the basement of a building. We were in danger every day. I was teaching Arabic and mathematics; Mahmoud, an oud player, taught music; Aziz taught art; Qadir, a psychologist, worked with children who needed support. I thought I would continue to teach in this way for a long time. Until the day that I knew I could do it no more.

That day I left the basement after finishing my work and was on my way home. I was wearing the abeyah and hijab. My face was covered. I did not want to be noticed.

A voice called out to me from behind. “Woman!” I did not want to be called that. I did not want to stop walking. “Why are you wearing a man’s shoes? Do you pretend to be a man?” At that moment, a man from the market who sells fruit from a trolley came along. I knew him a little since I bought fruit from him sometimes. He gestured to me to come and stand beside his trolley and then started talking to the ISIS member. They went off together. Once they were gone I hurried home. I know this man saved me! My shoes would have been enough to arrest me, but my fear was for the school.

That night the music teacher told me it was not safe, and that I should leave. I did. I left with painful memories in my heart and no time to say goodbye.

Over the next few years I moved to Damascus and from there onward to Beirut and now I am here in the Toronto Airport. I still wear the same shoes. I take off my shoes and let my feet feel freedom.

Soaad Shhab was born in Damascus, Syria and is from Palestinian roots. She studied early child development in Damascus and education at the University of Alforat, and taught primary school for 25 years. She has published a collection of children’s stories, titled Festival of Color, and her poems have been published in the Alzman International in London, England.

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