My Inherited Shoes
Valérie Jamga Tchatchoua (+Video)
In Cameroon, parents state who among their children will replace them as the head of the family. Valerie Jamga returns to Africa for her mother’s funeral to find that her mother has left her a pair of shoes and responsibility for her whole family. The shoes are handmade open-toed samaras, made of traditional and modern materials, symbols that link Cameroon to Canada.
Generally, in Africa, and especially in Cameroon, most parents have a will that states who among their children will replace them in the family. It can be oral or written. In my family’s case, my mother did not write her will. She chose an oral testament.
A year and a half after I immigrated to Canada, my mother’s health went from bad to worse. One day, when I was talking to her on the phone, she told me that if I came back to Cameroon, I would have to talk to my aunt because she had an important message for me. As her illness progressed, she kept repeating these instructions. I did not know why she insisted. I did not understand the significance of those words.
When my mother passed away, I decided to travel home for her funeral. I followed my mother’s instructions. I met with my aunt, and she gave me a pair of shoes that my mother wanted me to have. The meeting was extremely emotional. I was scared, and I trembled. My aunt threw her arms around me, and we cried.
After she consoled me, my aunt said that my mother wanted me to replace her in the family, to inherit her role and be her successor. I would have to assume all responsibilities and rights that belonged to my mother. To transfer this responsibility to me, my mother had given my aunt a pair of her shoes to give to me. Once I had these shoes, my mother had said, I would put my feet only on green grass. All doors would be open for me wherever I went, and I would get everything I wanted from life.
My aunt continued, saying that through this pair of shoes, my mother made me responsible for my entire family and all of my siblings. She added that this pair of shoes would become the umbilical cord between Canada and Cameroon, and it would always remind me of where I came from. The shoes would help me keep in touch with my culture and my family in Cameroon.
When she told me this, I was extremely surprised. I could not believe that my mother would give me this responsibility. I am not the oldest, nor the youngest but the third among eight siblings. Only my mother knew why she chose me. As my aunt spoke, I missed my mother’s lovely voice terribly.
This pair of shoes that my mother gave to me is not the nicest nor the most expensive of her shoes, but it is the most valuable, most significant and the most symbolic. It is a pair of open-toed and colourful samaras, hand-made by traditional shoemakers in Cameroon. They were made with traditional and modern materials that seem to link Canada to Cameroon—palm leaves, cowry shells, and a heart shape. The strap is hand-woven from dyed strands in green, orange, and purple. The insole is soft, velvety cotton. At that moment, these shoes became one of my most essential belongings, and I keep them protectively.
When I came back from Cameroon with my mother’s samaras, I could not stop crying. Whenever I saw them, they made me realize that my mom was gone forever. This situation made my little children and my husband feel bad for me. My husband hid the shoes away so I would not cry in front of the children.
Now, I try to follow all the instructions my mother gave me before she passed away, and I stay connected with my family back home. I think my inherited shoes give me the strength and happiness to handle all my mother’s responsibilities.
Valérie Jamga graduated in International Trade in Cameroon. Her immigration to Canada in 2013 was her opportunity to change careers. As a registered social worker, she works with a francophone non-profit organization in Calgary in the field of settlement and integration of newcomers. She works to improve the well-being of women, children, elderly and families.