Shoes of Harmony

Roya Chalaki


Roya Chalaki was born in the northwest of Iran and attended her first twelve years of school there. She hated her mandatory psychology course in the last year of high school and felt happy and complete with her love of science and poetry. Years later, when she is walking in her black and white shoes in downtown Calgary, what will she realize about psychology, her life’s journey and the challenges and opportunities of living in Canada.


My black and white shoes are special to me. They symbolize how I have improved my ability to balance contrasting interests in my life, like science, poetry, and psychology.

I was raised in Maku, a small town in northwest Iran. I loved literature, especially poetry, from childhood. And I also loved mathematics, chemistry, and physics. When I took a mandatory course called Introduction to Psychology in the last year of high school, I hated it. It didn’t have the sacredness of poetry or the logic of the sciences.

However, that love of poetry and science didn’t save me when I found myself in deep emotional holes later in my life.

In my university entrance exams, I got the highest result of all female students in my town. I enrolled in Software engineering in a university in a much bigger city, called Hamedan, with students from all over Iran. I was a super shy girl in my first ever co-ed classes. I was busy finding my place in my surroundings rather than focusing on my studies. 

It was difficult for me to communicate with boys. Unlike other engineering classes, we had the same number of boys and girls in our class, and the girls were more religious in our class. I liked being friends with them and started to wear a chador to look like them. I was already wearing a hijab since it is mandatory in Iran. A chador is a long black cloak that layers on top of the hijab. I wore matte black shoes with it, and, in my shyness, I felt comfortable blending in with the other women.  By spending time with these women, I developed an understanding of their liberal private lives, our common interest in books and annoying boys, and our shared human nature even though we didn’t share the same political or religious beliefs. I am still in an online book club with them.

My first few years in Tehran were great. But Tehran was rapidly modernizing. Highways and apartments replaced beautiful natural areas and historical places. As increasing value was put on money and class, I increasingly felt disconnected and lost.

Trying to escape these things, and the sadness of losing my mother, and hopeful for a life without challenges, I came to Calgary in 2015. I soon realized that there is no escaping life’s challenges. Life in Canada was especially hard when, through lack of employment, I had no social connections.  But here I found the Canadian Mental Health Association. It is a friendly place with kind and wise peer supports, and I enjoy talking to the people there. I also enjoy the classes they offer. After attending a spoken word poetry class there, some friends and I formed a poetry club. We read poems by English and Persian poets.

Last month, I was walking in my black and white shoes and feeling, for the first time in a long time, light and happy. That day, with the help of a bridge program for immigrant IT professionals, I had secured my internship in a company that values employees’ physical and mental health. I thought about how I had worn the same black and white shoes many times to the CMHA. And I thought about the beautiful harmony of science, poetry and psychology in my life.

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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