Trading Shoes

Roya Chalaki


Roya Chalaki, a Canadian immigrant since 2015, travels back to Iran to visit her sister. She brings a pair of high-top runners as a gift, but the gift-giving unfolds differently than she expects.


This is a story about how I ended up flying from Iran to Canada in my sister’s shiny beige loafers. 

I immigrated to Canada in October 2015. For two years after, the only contact I had with my family in Iran was through Skype calls and phone conversations. In one of these conversations, I asked my little sister Samaneh for her foot size. I was planning a visit to Iran and wanted to bring her a pair of shoes. A few days before flying, I bought two pairs of high-top runners – one for me and one for Samaneh.

Samaneh is four years younger than me. The family all love her as the youngest, although my way of loving her was sometimes strange. I remember hugging her so tightly that she screamed! When I grew up and learned a bit of psychology, I wondered if those strong hugs were my subconscious revenge. I would have been the youngest child if she hadn’t come along.

But there came a point when I started to feel responsible for Samaneh and tried to care for her as an older sister should. One day, when she was in her first year of school, and I was in grade four, the evacuation alarm started at the school. Everyone hurried to the yard. Smoke billowed out of my sister’s class. I was terrified. It was winter, and the heater in her class was blocked and could have exploded. Then I noticed her among the other little kids. I hugged her, this time not too tightly and with pure love.

As we grew older, I started to give Sameneh sisterly advice, although not all of it was wise. Her university entrance exams came at a difficult time for the family. We had moved from our hometown – a small city northwest of Iran – to Tehran. Although Samaneh is very bright and was always one of the best at school, she did not do well. She would not be attending a government university, which is considered better than private universities. She was upset; my older sister and I had graduated from government universities. The only advice I could think of was this: “You know, my boss at work is wealthy. His wife didn’t go to university. Marrying a rich guy seems like another good approach to life.”

My sister was not pleased. 

In our phone conversation, Samaneh told me that her foot size was now the same as mine.  Giving birth had made her feet bigger. I believe she also grew more mature, and perhaps more lonely, in the two years after our mother died of cancer and I left Tehran.

This past October, I visited Samaneh in Iran. I gave her the high-top runners. They fit, but she said she wasn’t sure she would ever wear them. Unlike me, she isn’t sporty. I mistakenly thought she might want to be more like me. Luckily, I had a pair of graceful black leather boots that I bought for myself in Canada when I was trying to be more feminine like her. She liked that pair, and I happily gave them to her. 

I wanted to have a pair of her shoes too, but I was too shy to ask for this symbol of our deep bond.  Instead, I said I needed a comfortable pair to wear on the airplane. She offered me her shiny beige loafers. I travelled back to Calgary in them. 

Samaneh dreams about coming to Canada. I hope that she will join me here. And maybe when she gets off the plane, she will be wearing the black leather boots.

Roya Chalaki moved to Canada in 2016 from Iran. She lives with her husband and daughter in Calgary and works as a software engineer. She has a lifelong passion for writing and literature and is a three-time participant with The Shoe Project workshops. Now she enjoys working with The Shoe Project as a local coordinator to help more women share their story of arrival and integration in this beautiful country.

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