Shaminu and Her Travelling Shoes
After three frustrating years of failed visa attempts, Shaminu Netonze and her son are about to join her husband in Canada. She wants to look stylish, so she buys a pair of black shoes in Mombasa. Her heart sinks when an immigration officer stops her in Halifax. Instead of refusing her entry, the officer explains that the shoes she is wearing are a Canadian brand.
It was January 2018 in Mtwapa, Kenya, a small coastal community north of Mombasa, on a two-thousand-mile ribbon of sand astride the Indian Ocean. My eleven-year-old son Shabram and I had waited almost three years to join my husband in Canada as permanent residents. And now it was happening.
The trip was about 15 hours long. I wanted as stylish a wardrobe as possible. But it had to be inexpensive and comfortable too. After searching for a pair of shoes for days in little stores in Nakumat, the main mall in Mombasa, I finally spotted them at a street vendor. Black and white, they stood out from the others on his counter. They seemed to be saying, “Take us. We want to go travelling.”
My husband and I met in 2013 when he came to Kenya to go on a safari. Instantly, I fell in love with his sense of humour. He says it might have taken him longer, but he never went on that safari!
I was proudly wearing my new shoes on the long walk from the airplane to Immigration in Halifax, upstairs then downstairs, then upstairs again—like the ups and downs of our journey of failed visa attempts.
At first, my then-fiancé and I couldn’t believe it. I was a law-abiding citizen, and yet I was denied a visitor’s visa because I lacked travel history outside of East Africa! But how could I have a travel history if I couldn’t get a visa to travel?
We believed there was a mistake, so we applied again. And again. But again, there were refusals for the same reason.
Then we had an idea: we would establish my travel history by meeting in different countries outside Canada, countries that I could get to without a visa application. The first place we chose was South Africa, in particular Cape Town. We had a glorious time for ten days in 2015 before we had to part again.
In 2016, we went to Nassau, which allowed East Africans without a visa as a result of Commonwealth relationships. For this trip, I needed a US transit visa. And I got it. Then we thought it would be the perfect place to get married. My fiancé’s brother and sister, whom I had never met, were able to join us there for the celebration.
With this travel history and being married, we applied again for a Canadian visa. We asked only for a 30-day visitor’s visa, but I was granted a five-year visa to be used in six-month bites. We were grateful and shocked.
As we walked towards the line at Canadian Immigration in Halifax, I wondered if we would be treated as kindly as I had been when they granted me the five-year visitor visa. Or had my luck run out?
Suddenly, a female officer touched my arm and drew me aside. My heart pounded. Were all of our efforts going to come undone at the last moment?
“I like your shoes,” she said. “Where did you get them?” When I replied that I had bought them in Kenya, she said, “But those are Timberland, a Canadian brand.”
I laughed. “No wonder the shoes wanted to come with me. They’re made for immigrating.”
As we left the airport for our new life in Canada, I realized I had brought the shoes back to where they started. I brought them home. I thought of an old song and gave it new lyrics:
These shoes are made for immigrating
And that’s just what they did.
These shoes brought me to Canada, my new home, home, home.
SHAMIMU NETONZE has a wonderful 12-year-old son and an amazing husband. She is delighted to have a job she likes and live in a beautiful, friendly city like Halifax. She feels privileged and grateful for all of the wonderful things that have happened to her. She thanks ISANS in particular for opening new doors.