A Perfect Fit

Tenzin Palzom (+Video)


When the Chinese regime invaded Tibet, my parents escaped to India. Living there, I never owned nice shoes. One day a parcel arrived from my cousin in Switzerland: a pair of ballet flats from Zara—and they fit perfectly! I could never have imagined where those shoes and I were going to end up.


The thing is, I was born in exile, in India, to a humble Tibetan family. Tibet is my fatherland. In 1959, the Chinese regime invaded Tibet. My mother and her parents fled Tibet to escape torture—or just being shot. My father and my uncles were among the guerrilla fighters who attempted to stop the invasion. But their small troop was nothing in front of the huge Chinese military force. Although I wasn’t alive in that period, I heard about the struggles of my parents and grandparents. I knew how hard my parents worked to care for my brothers and me. Being the eldest, I was more aware of that fact, so I didn’t make demands to my parents. I never owned fancy expensive shoes. Any shoes were good enough. But my mum knew I was very fond of pretty shoes—and I still am. 

I remember fondly when my cousin Pema sent me a pair of brand-new shoes. I am very close to her. In our small Tibetan settlement at the easternmost edge of India, we grew up together in Arunachal Pradesh. We shared the same temperament. She was my partner in crime. 

In 2008, Pema moved to Switzerland and started everything from the beginning. Everything was new: weather, food, culture and language. I heard about her struggles being in a new country and not speaking the language. Things aren’t cheap in Switzerland, I heard. 

Yet she thought of me, and in 2012, when a man she knew there was going back to visit India, Pema sent a parcel with him: a pair of military-coloured ballet flats from Zara, made of camouflage cloth with a gold-studded front. The parcel was such a pleasant surprise to me—she hadn’t mentioned anything about sending those shoes—and the amazing part was, the shoes fit! 

I am still thankful to Pema for so many reasons. We are close cousins. Now she has her own family in Switzerland and recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Like Pema, I am now experiencing the same journey—starting again from the bottom, after coming to Calgary in 2015. My job as a room attendant at the Banff Centre demands a lot of patience and is physically challenging. But things are better than before.

Like a river flows by along the water current, I live life as it comes, with true appreciation. It was tough at the beginning to adapt to the climate, and also food-wise and customs-wise! So many things I was not accustomed to. However, things are way smoother now. I feel welcomed, and I don’t get homesick often. 

I am planning to see my family in India in October—this will be the first time I go back. Of course, I am taking shoes with me for gifts: Keds sneakers, which I think will be very good for the long summers in India. I want my family to feel loved and cared for, like my cousin Pema made me feel back then. Four months to go, and I will be off to India. For me, gifts are not merely gifts, they are the extension of my love and consideration and sacrifice and the energy one has put into procuring the presents. And what better present than good shoes?

TENZIN PALZOM is Tibetan, born and raised in India. She was one of a thousand Tibetans who came to Canada through Project Resettlement. She finds life in Canada different in many ways, from weather to food, and most importantly, the standard of living.

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