My Bata Slippers

Ambika Thambu (+Video)


Civil war forces Ambika Thambu from beautiful Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in 1997. She sets out wearing Bata slippers that make a happy “sadag sadag” sound as she walks. Even when all that holds the slippers together is a safety pin, and even though at times she carries them, she doesn’t throw them away. Now she is a radio host, grateful to the black Bata slippers that brought her to her new life.


There are many things that play a significant role in our daily lives. Furthermore, there are countless items we wear that are a necessity in our life. I could say this about shoes. I never realized the importance of a pair of shoes until the day my life changed forever.

I was forced to leave my homeland at the age of 21. The civil war was the result of conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. The Sinhalese became violent, and it was no longer safe for Tamils to live in Sri Lanka. Thus, I began my journey to a new world. 

I started my journey in Jaffna, where I was born and raised. Then I travelled to one of the prominent cities in Sri Lanka, called Vavuniya. Here I was granted permission to reach the capital city, Colombo. Since the Sinhala government had blocked off highways, most of my journey had to be on foot. Therefore, I couldn’t bring much with me. I left home wearing my Bata slippers because I was going to be walking near water. I couldn’t wear most other shoes because they weren’t sustainable for my journey to come. 

First, I had to catch a small boat to cross the lake. Other people around me were fleeing the country for the same reason. Everyone had to walk five hours to simply reach the boat. As I walked, the Bata flip-flop slippers seemed happy. They made a “sadag sadag sound, but as I continued my journey, the slippers suffered and refused to cooperate with me. As my feet were sweating, the slippers often slipped off, and the hot, dry sand burned my skin.  

After I had walked about two kilometres, one of my slippers broke. The group was moving fast; the others were far in front of me. Nobody could stop to help me because it was too dangerous. There were Sinhalese troops out on watch. Slowing down would only make us vulnerable. I tried to fix my broken slipper with a safety pin, then continued. After about ten feet, the safety pin started poking my foot, so I carried my slippers and walked barefoot for a while. The pathway was a rough road. Small stones hurt my feet. It felt almost as if I were walking on fire. 

Eventually, I reached the boat. As we crossed the lake, the cool breeze from the water felt soothing; my feet were finally at rest. Once the boat stopped, I got up and continued to walk, wearing the same broken pair of Bata slippers, which were now grey. They no longer made the sound, “sadag sadag”. The end of their life was near. They broke again, so I walked through the forest while holding the slippers in my hand. 

Finally, I arrived at the centre point, which is where the officers identify you and give you consent to leave the city. I had to stand and wait in line. Finally, I received permission. I was able to go as far as Vavuniya but not the capital Colombo, which is a story for another time. I stayed in Vavuniya for three years because it was safe and convenient. 

This was only the beginning of my journey to Canada, but the end of my journey with my worn-out Bata slippers. I didn’t throw them out until I bought a new pair in the new city where I am living now. Before throwing out the old ones, I wholeheartedly thanked them for being there for me throughout my journey. A journey that changed my life.

AMBIKA THAMBU moved from Sri Lanka to Canada in 1999. She worked as an accounting clerk and is currently working as a radio host. She has also received her bachelor of arts degree in commerce from the University of Jaffna. She lives in Toronto and works as a radio host. 

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