Her tall brown boots fit Kiden Jonathan’s South Sudanese legs perfectly. They remind her of her search for home. Her first experience of a home was in Uganda. From there, she lived in a refugee camp in Kenya. Then, in Canada, she lived in her husband’s house. It isn’t until she has her own apartment that she can say she has found a real home – a home she has created.
These are my brown boots. I love them, and they are narrow. Boots often have too much space for my skinny South Sudanese legs. But these boots fit my legs perfectly. They are made by the Taxi Company. When I wear these boots, I walk with confidence and purpose. Getting lost is never on purpose.
So…January 21, 2016. It was my second writing class of the Shoe Project, held at the University of Toronto. It was a cold winter evening, and I was wearing these boots. Not the best for this weather. And I didn’t have the address. I can’t explain right now why I didn’t have the address, but I didn’t have the address. So, I got lost. I walked for 90 minutes. The more I walked, the farther away I seemed to go. And the colder I felt. It was freezing!
I really appreciate Canadians for their kindness. When I asked, they would take off their gloves to access Google Maps. And then, they’d point in different directions…Go this way. Go that way… Ah, there, there. It got to the point where I was confused and unable to think.
Finally, I saw a big, old building and decided to go inside and rest. I used the washroom. I collected my thoughts. I was miserable but persistent! I asked the information staff for directions. She told me, “It’s right here.” Whaaat?
I was super happy. I went in and told Alyssa, our teacher, that I had gotten lost. As soon as I sat down, my Fitbit beeped 10,000 steps! I was amazed. I achieved my exercise goal, and I had a story to write. This experience of getting lost and wandering in my brown boots reminds me of my search for home.
Where is “home”? That’s a big question. I was born in South Sudan in 1972. Yes! I moved to Uganda in 1992. Yes! I relocated to a refugee camp in Kenya. Then, finally, I came to Toronto, Canada, in 1999. I went to nursing school and worked in a ventilatory care unit for 13 years. I hated the weather here. Every winter, I wanted to move back home. I missed my family. I did visit twice.
Then, in 2013, back in Toronto, I moved to a different home—a women’s shelter. My first day was frightening. I couldn’t focus. I walked back and forth, back and forth, until a three-year-old child, Alia, looked at me and said, “Your hair is messy!”
“No,” I said. “My life is messy.” Nine months later, after sharing rooms with strangers, I moved to my first apartment of my own. I loved it.
Last year, my daughter Gire and I went to Uganda. It was a beautiful reunion. There are four generations in the family now: my grandfather, Reverend Natana, 90; my mother, Siphora, 65; I am 46; and my daughter Gire is 26. I was so happy to have my daughter visit Uganda after 25 years. My grandfather always speaks blessings over his children and spreads love. I’m truly grateful that my daughter could return and connect with our family and culture.
So, was that home? Where my family and others I love are?
My first experience of home was with my parents. My second home was my husband’s. Then we went on the run from South Sudan to Uganda. Uganda had no jobs for foreigners. The camp in Kenya was a desert. I had no status there. And now, here I am, 20 years in Canada. At last, I am in Canada, but the marital family was toxic, many misunderstandings, and finally, divorce.
So…Where is home? What is home?
Canada has opportunities. There is security, healthcare and much more. I love my independent life. I get to make my own decisions. Last summer, I invited my friends over. They were so happy to see me in my own apartment. The flowers hanging upside down in a corner. The map of Africa with at least 20 colours: bright, beautiful Africa. And a vision board of what I like, what I want to do, and who I am. They said, “This is the real Kiden.”
So…it made me think that maybe…this is home. The home that I created. I have found my home.
KIDEN JONATHAN and her children spent years living in a refugee camp. She trained as a nurse and taught in the primary school there and paid special attention to encouraging girls to stay in school and avoid early marriage. Now that she and her family live safely in Canada, she works as a writer and a public speaker. “I spent the last 27 years running from myself and who I knew I could be. I now use my new-found home and voice to educate others on the power of self-discovery and self-care.”