I Dream of Pania’s Shoes
Yasmin Lash (+Video)
When Yasmin Lash leaves Israel, she dreams of her great-grandmother, Pania. Pania had been abducted when fleeing from Circassia. Her rescuers saved her by throwing her into the sea. She survived, but her shoes were heavy and water-logged. As Yasmin Lash’s plane arrives in Canada, she puts her own comfortable brown leather boots back on. She remembers Pania’s shoes as she steps into her future.
I was awakened by the captain’s voice as he made the announcements before the landing. My 36-hour journey from Israel to Canada was coming to an end, and adrenaline hit my brain. It felt as though my English had abandoned me as I struggled to make sense of his words.
I had been dreaming of my great-grandmother, Pania, who was forced to leave Circassia after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in 1886. Circassian women had a reputation for being beautiful and elegant. That made Pania vulnerable to kidnappers who would sell her as a concubine. Over the years, I’ve stitched together tales about Pania told by my mother and grandmother, and I’ve created my own version of her.
In my vision, one of her saviours threw Pania into the sea from the ship. She entered the water feet first, and her many skirts opened, covering her face. All sounds were muffled. Her feet in their sheepskin boots kicked frantically. The cold saltwater burned her throat. She was soon pulled into a dinghy by her rescuers to head for the shore where fellow refugees were cheering.
In the boat, Pania glared back at her abductor, who was standing on the deck of the ship, swearing and swinging his fists as her boat rowed away. He was the ship captain that was supposed to take her to safety, away from the horrors in her homeland.
On the shore, Pania’s shoes were heavy. Spongy with seawater, they made soft squeezing sounds as she walked. But they were still on her feet. I saw her lifting her head to face the world.
I can remember how proud I felt hearing the story of the brave Circassian men fighting to save her, and I wonder how Pania must have felt. Did she worry about her possible ruined reputation? Was she afraid of her unknown future?
Pania was never meek and obedient. She lived her life on her own terms and chose her own path. When later her uncle tried to marry her off, she used an old Circassian custom of running to her neighbour’s house to demand refuge, forcing the community elders to come up with a better option. She even used her ‘fame’ to her advantage. To help her family’s fabric store, she often chose the most unpopular material to sew herself a dress. That item would sell out instantly.
Our flight was taking us across the Atlantic Ocean to a new land. For Pania, she was brought to a new life in a boat on the Black Sea to the shores of the Ottoman Empire. I reminded myself that my journey was my own choice.
I felt a stir on my right. My oldest daughter was awake. She smiled faintly. My other three kids and husband were still asleep. A rush of panic crept up my spine, twisting the insides of my stomach. “What am I doing?” My heart raced, and I inhaled deeply.
Only a few minutes away from our new home, I prayed. “God, help me be strong!” I caught my husband looking at me. His puffy eyes and dishevelled hair made him look boyish and charming. He whispered, “We’re here. Finally. Our new home. We’re crazy!” My heart skipped a beat. I smiled back and exhaled.
I groped under the seat for my shoes, feeling the soft leather and pulling them out. I looked down at them, my brown leather boots. The most comfortable pair I owned. I slipped my legs in, feeling their familiar, cozy grip on my ankles. I zipped them up, and raised my head. I was ready.
YASMIN LASH grew up in a small Circassian community in Israel. She worked as an occupational therapist for 18 years before immigrating to Canada in 2018 with her husband and four children. She now works at ISANS (Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia). She truly believes in connecting through stories.