A Surprise Landing

Nasima Behzad


When Shia Hazaras were targeted in Afghanistan, Nasima Behzad`s family moved to Pakistan. When the ethnic group was targeted there, Nasima, 20 weeks pregnant and wearing her black and pink running shoes, begins a surprising journey to find a peaceful country.


I was born in Afghanistan during a civil war. I belong to the minority Shia Hazara ethnic group. During the war, we had to constantly change locations to avoid rockets and bullets. Mostly we travelled as a group and stayed in basements. When the Taliban came into power, life became even more difficult for us. Women couldn’t go out, and men had to grow beards. Some children and men were kidnapped and forced to fight. My family moved to Pakistan for safety. We lived there as refugees with other Hazaras. 

After I graduated from high school, I got a job at the Iranian consulate in Quetta, Pakistan. I got married in 2012.  At the beginning of 2015, my husband and I planned a trip to Iran. We shopped for light footwear so we could be comfortable while exploring Iranian cities. I bought a pair of running shoes with black velvet outside and pink fabric inside. 

When we returned to Quetta, it had become more dangerous because Hazaras were being increasingly targeted. And I was 20 weeks pregnant. We decided to seek refuge in any other country. We packed a few things. I put on my pink and black running shoes.

Only our close family knew that we were leaving. We travelled by road to Zahedan, Iran, as we couldn’t exit from the Pakistan airport because we were refugees. From Zahedan, we flew to Tehran and then to Cuba. Our planned final destination was the United States. In the very hot weather in Cuba, I was still wearing my running shoes. I bought a pair of sandals, but I used them for just two or three weeks, then I gave them to a friend I met in Cuba. She needed my summer shoes more than me. 

During our stay in Cuba, my right kidney became infected and, after many laboratory tests, I was hospitalized for one week. The doctors were not successful in curing the problem or easing my pain. My condition was not good. My husband was really worried about me and our unborn baby. As we realized that it was unlikely that we would be able to get into the USA from Cuba, we decided to go back to Iran. From there we planned to try for Europe. I was discharged from the hospital without any medication to relieve my pain.  It was time to wear my comfortable running shoes once again. 

On December 4th, 2015, we boarded a flight for Iran. A few hours after take-off, a pain started all around my belly and back. I tried to ignore it, but it got worse. The flight attendant took me to the back of the plane for a checkup, but unfortunately, they could not do anything. Two nurses, one from Germany and one from Sweden, were on the flight. They came to help me. They thought that I was in labour and that there might be complications. 

The captain of the airplane decided to make an emergency landing.  An ambulance was waiting. It drove us to the hospital.  I got many injections and IVs. I was in the ICU.  They discovered that I had a kidney stone. 

When they had shifted me to another room, my husband asked the nurse, “What country are we in?” 

The nurse smiled and said, “Canada.” 

We were in Gander, Newfoundland. It was unbelievable. As Canada is a safe country, we decided to stay here. We have a healthy baby boy. He was born in Calgary. And I still wear my pink and black running shoes.

NASIMA BEHZAD was born in Afghanistan in 1991 during a civil war. She lived in Pakistan as a refugee for many years and came to Canada in 2013.

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