They May Still See My Bright Shoes
A female journalist reporting violence against women in an area where just being a woman is not easy receives multiple threats. Eventually, she finds herself running for her life.
Sometimes to protect your life, you have to do something more difficult than the circumstances you are running from. I had a good life, work and an amazing family, but I had to leave with my husband for my safety.
Now that we have reached the border, it seems the hardest part of our journey. It’s just a road, a road between two big countries. It’s the first time we are doing something illegal, but we don’t have any choice.
It’s June, hot and quiet on the US side. I see only trees and blackberry bushes. It looks like no one lives in the big country on the other side, Canada. I am wearing black sports clothes, but my bright pinky-orange running shoes can probably be seen even back in Kurdistan! I am hunched close to the blackberry bushes, trying to make myself look smaller while I wait for my husband to say, “Let’s go.” Over there, Canada seems like a terrifying jungle. But my mind is still on the unforgettable night that I left my family.
I was a journalist in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, as well as a women’s activist, a voice for the women and girls who couldn’t raise their voices to ask for their rights, who were killed because of love, who were raped or subjected to female genital mutilation because of some inhuman tradition.
I was still in university when I started working with one of the non-governmental newspapers. Every day I had to go to the newspaper office after classes. My worst problem then was my shoes. I loved wearing fancy shoes and being feminine, but I couldn’t be just a young girl and live my life while I saw all of the injustice women in my region faced. So, I had to put on running shoes instead and, after classes, run after women’s rights. In my region, sometimes just being a woman is hard; imagine being a female journalist writing about that situation. It made a lot of people, including those in government, angry.
After working for a few years, they started to send me text messages telling me to stop speaking out. The threats only made me stronger and work harder to make them stop treating women as objects, but one day everything changed, and now I had to put on my running shoes to save my own life. I received a threat by letter, which was scarier because now they knew where I lived. It was like an alarm bell. I had to do something to save my life and my parents too.
I will never forget the night that my husband and I said goodbye to our families. All of them were there, everyone with red eyes and fake smiles telling us, “You are going to be okay!”
“Which shoes are you going to wear?” my sister asked. I chose my pinky-orange ones, which seemed a bright sign for my uncertain future. I laced them tight to feel safe, not just because of the death threat: we were entering an unimaginable situation. After lots of crying and hugging, we flew to Turkey, then the US. From there we decided to go to Canada.
And now here I am on the side of this road. Suddenly my husband says, “Run!” At that moment, I notice a blackberry on the nearby bushes; I pop it in my mouth quickly and run very fast.
It was a nice short run with the sweet taste of blackberry juice in my mouth. We arrived in that peaceful jungle on the other side, which wasn’t a real jungle at all. It was beautiful British Columbia.
SHANGA RAHIM was a journalist and women’s activist in Kurdistan, working on women’s issues and advocating women’s rights. She holds a B.A. in Media Studies. She came to Canada in 2015.