Shoes Inhabited by Memories

Waad Albitar


Waad Albitar stands at the window with her sons, watching refugees flood into Damascus. Many of them, even the small children, are shoeless. She collects all the family’s old shoes for the refugees. Her little son even parts with his prized Spiderman sneakers. But there is one pair she cannot donate, the black, special-occasion heels she has shared with her mother. They come with her to Canada.


That day, two years after the beginning of the war, I was standing with my little sons at the window of my house, which was located on a main street in Damascus. My husband had wanted us to leave, but I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to my country and my mother.

We were watching a group of people in the street below. They had been displaced from their homes in villages near Damascus because of the war. Some of them were barefoot, even the little children. Tears poured down my face as I heard the fire destroying our dreams. If only this were just a bad dream.

My little son Istefan was too small to understand what was happening, while my six‐year‐old son, Salim, wondered, ”Mom, why don’t they wear shoes? They will hurt their feet and get them dirty.” I tried to catch my breath and explain that the war forced us to make hard decisions. We might lose our shoes or have to leave them behind, but nothing was as important as life itself.

A few hours later, a friend called and asked me to collect items for the displaced families. I started packing clothes and toys. When I came to the shoe closet, I sat down and started loading shoes into a bag. I said, ”These comfortable, blue shoes were for Istefan when he started walking. Those green ones without shoelaces were for Salim on the first day of school. The soft, white ones were baptism shoes. These comfortable, brown slippers I bought when I found out I was pregnant.” I felt like a film of my life was playing in front of my eyes, not just because each pair of shoes told a special story, but also because some of them carried me back to the old days. Syria—the peace, love and safety.

My son Salim brought me back to reality, saying, “Mom, you can take these ones too.” He was staring at me with his shining brown eyes as he held up his pair of Spiderman shoes. He surprised me because he always kept them close, even when he was hiding under the bed from the sounds of fire and bombs. I took his shoes and put them in the bag, along with several pairs of my own, and gave them all to my friend.

But there was one pair of shoes that I couldn’t let go of. At that time, I didn’t know these shoes would accompany me all the way to a new life.  I just knew I couldn’t give them away. These shoes were the ones I shared with my mother. We are very close, my mother and I. We see eye to eye on almost everything, and we even have the same eyes and the same slim fingers and the same shoe size. We bought these shoes together, these bright black shoes with medium heels, and we handed them back and forth for special occasions.

When I decided to move to Lebanon in 2013, my mother said, ”Take them. They fit you.” Like mother, like daughter, like son. Two years later, when we were approved for coming to Canada, I left a lot behind, but I couldn’t leave my mother’s shoes. I knew I had to find a place in my luggage for those bright black shoes. Every time I wear them, my heart is flooded with memories. They are my mother’s bright black shoes, and they will always leave footprints in my memory.

In 2013 Waad and her husband left the strife of Damascus along with their two young sons, moving to Lebanon and then Calgary. Waad’s story is about memory and its ability to link you to a past that is no longer in plain view. Waad is an architect and is retraining for that profession on Canadian terms.

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