My Funny Winter Shoes
Valerie N. Jamga Tchatchoua
Valerie Jamga’s father promised her that if she graduated high school with good grades, he would send her abroad to pursue her post-secondary studies. After her father unexpectedly passes away, Valerie buys a pair of funny winter shoes and sets out for Canada, determined to fulfil her father’s promise and her goals.
One day, when I came home from school, my husband told me that he had put my funny winter shoes in the garbage. He said he had not seen me wear them in over two years. I told him that those shoes are important to me even though they are no good for winter.
I was born and grew up in Cameroon. Located in central Africa, Cameroon is also called “Africa en miniature” because all of Africa’s natural beauty, such as beaches, mountains and savannas, is represented there. Cameroon, like Canada, has two official languages, French and English. I speak French, English and Medumba, which is my mother tongue.
My idea to travel abroad came from my father, who made me a promise. He said, “Valerie if you graduate from high school with good grades, I will send you to France for your post-secondary studies.” The first time he made me this promise, I was in grade seven. It gave me a reason to study hard. Unfortunately, when I reached grade eleven, my kind father passed away. I was seventeen years old. My life, as well as the life of my eight siblings and my mother, broke down. My father taught us everything except how to live without him. Even though the sun shone, I was in darkness. I spent three years in the same class and could not graduate high school. My mother worked long hours in her convenience store to support us.
With time and my mother’s encouragement, I finally graduated high school and went to university, where I earned a degree in international trade. I got a good job as a customer representative at the post office. However, nothing could replace my determination and ambition to follow up on my father’s words and travel out of my country.
One day a friend told me about Canada’s skilled worker immigration program. At that time, my fiancé lived in France, and he wanted me to go there. France is a country my father wanted me to travel to, but I needed to travel by myself and be proud of it, not with the help of my fiancé. After one year of negotiation, I convinced him to come back to Cameroon so that we could get married and both apply for skilled worker immigration to Canada. I researched Canada and found that it has a cold winter, but I could not know what it was really like. I had never experienced winter. Therefore, in preparation for winter, I bought a pair of thin-soled, red and blue leather shoes. In Canada, they are called deck shoes or topsiders. They seemed sturdy and practical. I did not know they were funny for winter when I bought them.
On January 31, 2013, I landed at Calgary International Airport wearing my funny winter shoes. The next day I wore them to process my immigration papers. It was dreadful. It was cold, it was snowing, and it was freezing. I wore those shoes for two months. One day, someone told me about Deerfoot Mall. We went there, and I bought comfortable winter boots, which saved my life in Canada.
But I will not discard my funny winter shoes. When my husband told me he put them in the garbage, I ran to the bin and took them back. I told my husband that I would keep these shoes for as long as I can. They may not look special, but they remind me of the accomplishment of my childhood dream, my adventurous journey to Canada, and they help me to fulfil the promise and honour the memory of my loving father.
Valérie studied international trade in Cameroon. Her immigration to Canada in 2013 was an opportunity for her to change careers. A registered social worker, she works with a Francophone non-profit organization in Calgary in settlement and integration of Newcomers. She works to improve the well-being of women, children, the elderly and families.