Back-up Slippers

Kiden Jonathan


Kiden Jonathan buys a pair of black slippers in the marketplace in Juba, South Sudan. In a brief window of peace, she has returned to visit her family. South Sudan is home to sixty-four often-hostile ethnic groups, but in Canada, they all come together to share each other’s songs and to dance. As she dances in the slippers she bought long ago, she remembers when there was peace in the country of her birth.


Peace or no peace!!!!  Which one is it? 

After 23 years of civil war, my country of South Sudan finally became independent. I visited in February of 2013 when the country was celebrating its newfound peace. 

Many things had changed since I’d fled to a refugee camp and then to Canada. For instance, the Government had taken our plot of land, on which we grew food. And we never got it back.

Some of the government survey workers would sell a plot to three different people. People fight over land.

Also, we had to buy Groceries every day because there was no electricity. 

Suk Libya, the market, was a 5-minute walk from our house in the town. I went there with my Sister. It was noisy but lively. Welders were melting metals; butcher men were chopping and weighing meat. Mobile sellers walked around with jewelry on their shoulders and arms. Others were standing and cutting cabbage and pineapple. The fruits and vegetables were fresh, all organic, grown by the river. The women were selling pastries and beans. They were all good at customer service.

Suddenly, I saw a pile of slippers, all black with different coloured straps, made in Thailand. I picked a pair.  

They were just right for me that day, perfect for social strolls and housework. As soon as I put them on, I felt at home. I was dressed like everybody else. I saw old friends and spoke and laughed with them. In fact, I felt like a social butterfly.

Life in Juba was slow and simple. Everything was within reach. Despite the stress of inflation and uncertainty, my Mom was very calm. One evening, I asked her what we would have for breakfast. She said,” Go to bed. We will figure that out in the morning.” 

Of course, there were many struggles. Every morning, the middle-aged men woke up to drink alcohol. It was an all-day habit. They hoped for a white-collar job, but there weren’t any. There was so much corruption, division over ethnicity, and nepotism. They wanted their country to flourish again. But there were no resources. How could one get ahead in life? The spirit of hopelessness runs deep. 

Like most families, women ran my family.  They were very creative and emotionally resilient. In that so-called window of peace, I loved my Country and my big loving family. I had missed them so much. 

Sadly, six months after I returned to Canada, the strife and loss of lives began again in Juba. “It was madness.” My mother and her six grandchildren had to move to Kampala, Uganda. My mother put it very well. “My dear daughter, the wounds are still raw.” 

When I heard those words, I felt tense. I don’t understand this part – is Mother defending the new skirmishes? My spine was hot. We are into the 3rd decade of War. When is it going to STOP? Where is peace? When is peace?

After being in Canada for 20 years, I still miss home just as much as when I first left. I spent my first 20 years in Juba, and then I spent seven years in exile. Canada is now home, but it’s not the same. Sometimes it feels familiar; other days, it doesn’t. 

Last year, I attended an engagement party. The whole Ontario Community of South-Sudanese danced together. We have 64 ethnic groups. In Sudan, they fight, but here they are friends. Each Ethnic group chose songs.  We were dancing together in one hall, singing each other’s songs. That day, I did not see ethnicity. Instead, I saw unity. I was filled with joy.  We are still one people, one country, but we must see that in ourselves to achieve sustainable peace.

I danced in high heels, but after two hours, my feet got tired, and I switched to the black slippers I bought in the market.  These black back-up slippers remind me of the good moments I had in Juba. But for now, in Canada, they are… my back-up shoes.

KIDEN JONATHAN and her children spent years living in a refugee camp. She trained as a nurse and taught in primary school, paying particular attention to encouraging girls to stay in school and avoid early marriage. Now that she and her family live safely in Canada, she works as a writer and a public speaker. “I spent the last 27 years running from myself, and who I knew I could be. I now use my new-found home and voice to educate others on the power of self-discovery and self-care.”

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