My Navy Sneakers

Maya Kabbani (+Video)


I landed in Toronto in December. It was a windy, snowy, dark day. I was coming from a sunny, warm region, but I wasn’t going to complain about the weather. My heart was already heavy because of losing my home. After six years of war, Syrians’ lives were coloured by the darkest colour.

Every time I tried to accept Toronto as my new home, I felt disloyal, as if I were cheating my people and Syria. In 2011, we had a revolution, a peaceful movement that gave us hope of a good future and a new destiny. However, everything turned out differently. I chose to seek refuge in another country and left everything behind. It was hard to accept my new reality of “Canada” as home.

In my journey to mental healing, I went up and down. Life was so painful that one day I asked my doctor, “Do you have any medication that can take all the memories from my brain or the grief from my heart? I want to feel better. I cannot live with all these memories.”

She said “No.” But she offered me medicine for depression. I went to the pharmacy and got the prescription filled. I put the bottle of pills on my table to remember to take it. Every morning, I talked to myself, then delayed it until the next day. I tried to find healing my way, away from medication.

One day, a friend called me about a writing group for women called The Shoe Project. I said yes! I met up with women from around the world. This became the best medicine.
Seated around a table and sharing our experiences and memories gave me the empathy and motivation that I was missing.

Then my life became different. I was not lonely anymore. After every Shoe Project session, I walked for a couple of hours to help myself release my thoughts and emotions. I started to feel Canada becoming my home. But I wondered: How can I belong to both Canada and Syria? I decided to move on and open my heart and my eyes.

When it got warm, I took off my winter boots and put on my navy sneakers which I had bought when I got the call to move to Canada. I had chosen a pair of sporty, comfy shoes. Now I wore them everywhere. When it got cold again, I switched to my winter snow boots. My blue sneakers gave me the accessibility and mobility to travel in the city. But comfy is not enough. I also needed winter boots.

It was having to switch the shoes that gave me the idea that I could find balance in my relationship to both Canada and Syria. I need not choose one over the other. I belong in Canada now, but both countries are important to me. Otherwise, I still have the pills I never used. I did not throw them out. I kept thinking I might need them one day. Now they are expired, but I keep them as a symbol of a test that I feel I have passed.

I still have other challenges in my new life in Canada, but I deal with them using different strategies. The lesson I have learnt from my shoes is to find balance and choose what fits me from the new society. Just like how I choose my shoes every day. What shoe will fit this day depends entirely on the weather.

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