The Secret Power

Catherine Enstas


Before immigrating to Canada, Catherine Enstas never thought that shoes could hold secret power. Yet, after arriving in Calgary, she discovers that a precious pair of knitted indoor shoes that were part of the few belongings she brought from Syria contain a private kingdom of imagination, memories and support. 


When you leave your home for a vacation, you only pack up what you will need because you know that you will return home again. When you decide to immigrate to another country, it is entirely different, but you still have the time to decide what you will pack. Definitely, the worst way to leave home is when you are forced to — when you are running from destruction, kidnapping and death. That is part of a war.  That is how we left Syria 20 months ago. 

As a physician, I was used to helping people lead healthy lives. As an obstetrician, I helped new life enter the world. Nothing prepared me for a time of war when life itself was so devalued. I could not even be certain of the most basic protection for my own children.

A radical group tried to kidnap my youngest son while he was coming home from high school. My oldest son miraculously survived when a rocket hit the bus stop where he was to catch his bus to his medical school. Cars were bombed on every street in our beautiful city Latakia. Every morning more beloved people went missing. Every day our thoughts were reduced to making strategies for survival.   

When you are forced to leave as we were, time becomes precious. Moments are too short to say goodbye, and the two allowable bags are too small for all the things and memories you would like to keep forever.

First of all, I picked up my brightly striped indoor shoes. They must be my companions for the thousands of miles of our unknown refugee trip. Twenty-four years ago, my lovely Aunt Jamila made me these woollen, hand-made shoes. Because they are not that expensive or from a famous brand, they were not taken by those who stole every valuable thing in my house. The thieves stupidly missed how precious and remarkable these shoes are to me. They have been woven not only by fingers and needles but also with all of the love and care that could be transferred to me from my aunt, who is like a mother to me. The blue in these shoes carries me into two brilliant unlimited worlds, the sky and sea, while the white brings me memories of the beautiful face and clear soul of the 88-year-old woman I love.

After we were forced to leave our home, we drove across the borders and tried to settle in Lebanon.  But settlement is almost impossible to achieve in Lebanon. We applied to Canada, and 20 days later, we were on a plane. When we landed in Canada, it felt like we were on another planet. The moment we arrived, we found peace, safety, respect — and electricity. We realized that Canada is the best place for our sons. They are doing very well in school and university, but at the same time, it is so hard to find myself again, to find the doctor I always worked hard to be. A part of my heart is still in Syria, with people still suffering there. 

Here is one of my secrets: While in Syria, my lovely shoes used to warm my feet, but here in the white snowy amazing Calgary, they have an additional mission.  They make me feel my Aunt Jamila’s love. I hear her voice encouraging me not to give up and blessing my footsteps as I volunteer, search for work, study at Bow Valley college and try to rebuild my life. The secret power in these shoes strengthens my confidence so that I will be able to achieve the best in a strong and welcoming country such as Canada.

Catherine Enstas is a Syrian physician who fled from the war, leaving behind belongings, friendships and extended family. She arrived in Calgary in February 2016 with her husband and two sons and is establishing a new life, including a new career in health management.

More Stories from Calgary 2018