Life Companions (+video)

Life Companions

Nailia Hasanova


A woman from Kyrgyzstan buys a pair of sneakers and embarks on an enlightening five-year journey with them.


When I was growing up, I thought that I would live in Kyrgyzstan my entire life. However, that is not how it turned out.

It all started when I picked up Japanese as a hobby, which led me to study in Japan for a few years. There, in Fukui, I met my husband to-be who studied for a year at the same university. After that, he graduated in India, and moved to Belgium. We decided to marry and invite our families to Brussels, but my marriage visa was declined and we had our wedding in Kyrgyzstan and India. It was a beautiful and sometimes surprising experience. We met almost all of our relatives, even those whom we hadn’t seen for several years. I especially loved the string of fragrant jasmine flowers put in my hair by the hair stylist. The garlands made of red and white rose petals, which my husband and I put around each other’s neck, were gorgeous. What surprised me the most was that my sister-in-law took me to the bridal salon by motorbike as the family car was in use for other reception preparations. I was always scared of riding a motorcycle, so I had to gather all my courage and hold her tight. Luckily, it was a one-way trip.

While in Bishkek, just before the wedding, I bought a pair of Ecco sneakers. They were pomegranate inside and grey outside with matching tri-color stripes, waterproof yet breathable, sturdy but soft. I liked them so much that I put them on in the store and when I stepped out into the cold rainy street, my feet were warm and cozy. I felt happy and thought that my life was going in the right direction.

It took half a year before I got my visa and went to join my husband in Brussels, wearing my lovely sneakers. They accompanied me to the Clemenceau Market, where I liked to buy fresh clementines and huge olives from Morocco and where vendors called me Madame Chinese. I wore them to go to French and Dutch lessons, thanks to which I could turn off the mute mode and start communicating with people and assimilating information around me that otherwise was blocked by not knowing the language.  This helped me to slowly regain my identity and to empathize with those who struggle with a language barrier.

My shoes followed me to Ecuador to step on the equator line, to admire iridescent blue and green hummingbirds that looked frozen in the air, and to enjoy the sweetness of cherimoya and golden berries. They supported me during the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, followed by 55 aftershocks.

Eventually, I went to the US in my Ecco shoes where I met many wonderful people and gained experience in translation and beading. Five years after I bought them, their soles had worn out. I tried to find a similar model, but could not find any. Ever since, I have been jumping from one brand of sneakers to another, never as satisfied as I was with my first pair.

At that time I understood that all my shoes are not a commodity, but a part of my life, which is a process of flowing through places, times, events, and feelings both joyful and sad. Some shoes speed us up like sneakers, others slow us down like high heels; some protect us like snow boots, and some make us dance like ballet flats. However, all of them have one thing in common – they help us feel strong and confident. I wonder where my current shoes will take me next.

Nailia Hasanova is of Kyrgyz origin, and came to Canada two and a half years ago. She has experience in research and languages. Her hobbies are travel, reading, and writing.

Watch the Performance

More Stories from Kingston 2023