Nubuck Leather Boots
Fatima Dzhigkaeva has little time to prepare to emigrate from South Ossetia. She leaves behind her soft nubuck boots, thinking she’ll have more need for office shoes. But Toronto is unwelcoming at first, and office jobs are hard to find. It will be a long time before she finds the work she wants. And when she finds a new pair of nubuck boots, she realizes she is home at last.
There are places in the world that embrace you when you go there, and you fall in love right away. That kind of love affair happened between me and romantic Paris, me and gorgeous Florence, me and colourful Istanbul. Toronto is very different. You have to explore it; you have to learn it; you have to find it. And the harder it is to discover it, the more you start liking it until you finally fall in love with it.
The Canadian immigration authorities were not generous about the time we had to get ourselves to Canada when they gave us immigration visas. Within three months, I was supposed to sell my apartment, quit my job, and prepare my son emotionally, promising him that there would be roller coasters and McDonald’s in the place we were going to. It was almost November, and we had only a few days left to arrive in Canada as landed immigrants.
“Are you sure you are not taking these boots?” my mom asked. “You said it is colder there than here.”
There we were, in the middle of the living room in my unsold apartment, trying to figure out what we were able to carry with us, what needed to be given away, and what I needed to keep in case we came back one day. I could see mementos from places I had visited. There was a Serge Lutens perfume bottle, which was available in only one store in Paris. There were fairy tale books I read to my son when he was very little, scarves I collected from all the places I had travelled to.
I looked at the boots with hesitation. I remember how excited I had been to go to the mountains in them. They were brown nubuck winter boots with laces. Very soft to touch and wear. In the south of Russia, I did not need them often—only when I went to a resort in the mountains to ski and have the sense of real winter weather, or on one of those snowy days, which Canadians call snowstorms and then issue weather alerts. In my hometown, we have a lot of snow, but it melts pretty quickly. Our alerts are to have fun and enjoy the snow while it is white and beautiful.
“No, Mom. I have no space for the boots in my suitcase. I’m taking only the most necessary things.”
I preferred to bring office shoes and clothes. I thought I would need them more when I settled in Toronto. I was so naive and full of self-confidence, believing that my experience with the UN and my knowledge of international refugee policy would guarantee me a job right away. It did not. Immigration was a long struggle for me. And Toronto, as a city, did not welcome me either. Like most immigrants, I volunteered a lot, I took temporary part-time jobs in fields that had nothing to do with my background, and finally, I went back to university.
The road was hard, but it allowed me to meet the friends who became like my family, places that became my favourites. The AGO and the ROM became my meccas. The hippie Kensington Market disclosed its Jewish origins. One could randomly encounter Sting at Harbourfront…I started loving Toronto, or Toronto started letting me love it.
Where? In what shop? I finally found some winter boots. They are brown, nubuck winter boots with laces. Very soft to touch and wear. I finally started feeling at home.
Fatima Dzhigkaeva was born in South Ossetia, formerly part of the Soviet Union. She studied linguistics and economics in Russia and South Ossetia and worked for the United Nations until she left. Fatima came to Canada in 2010 with her son. She studied Public Policy at York University and is now working for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
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My Brown Shoes
Fatima Dzhigkaeva buys brown leather shoes in Sarajevo, a city that has known bloodshed. So has her home city in South Ossetia...