From High Heels to Bare Feet
As a child growing up in Ukraine, I didn’t have a choice about what I wore. However, when I turned 16, I was eager to experiment with high fashion. My older sister introduced me to the works of classical poets like Alexander Block, Alexander Pushkin and Sergei Yesenin. I loved them. We pictured ourselves wearing feminine clothes with high heels, which we equated with the romance expressed in these poems. I knew that high heels were uncomfortable, but I still wore them because high heels made me feel confident and powerful, even though I almost broke my leg one night.
I am so grateful to my parents for giving me the opportunity to pursue my dreams. After graduating with a degree in elementary education and fine art, I became a successful art teacher. Despite the chaotic financial crisis due to Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika, I was one of the lucky few who was employed at that time. I had a career as an artist, winning many awards and selling my paintings in other countries. Some of them are still on display in the offices of Ukrainian politicians.
My personal life was a bit more complicated. I got married at 19, gave birth to my son at 20 and got divorced at 21. It was sometimes difficult to be a single mother, but it still seemed like I had enough to be happy. However, by around 2006, I started see that my beautiful country was becoming more and more corrupt. I became worried about my son’s future—and my own, too. I tried to save money to move to Russian but after two years, I still did not have enough.
Then one day I heard news from friends that the Youth Community Organization in Kiev was helping Ukrainians move to Canada. Maple Leaf Foods was hiring butchers. I had experience working at a sausage factory. So, I got hired!
In 2008, I arrived in Brandon, Manitoba. I had only 50 dollars in my pocket. However, the support for immigrants was terrific! We were given help with accommodation, finding furniture and even clothing. This is when I traded my high heels for work boots. I wrote my first impressions about Canada in a letter to my family. The weather seemed very similar to ours, but the sky looked farther away, and the wind was stronger. Also, I wondered why there were seagulls so far from the ocean.
When I was in Ukraine, I promised my son that I would bring him to Canada in six months, Unfortunately, it actually happened two years later. It was wonderful to finally be together. Eventually, I was ready for a new challenge, so I moved to Edmonton where I got a job as a safety worker at an oil plant.
Thirteen years after arriving in Canada, my son has a great career and a happy marriage. Now maybe it is time to decide what’s next for me. I thought that I would develop my art career in Canada and have exhibitions here. That was the plan! Instead, I have a job as head custodian in the cleaning department for a school board. I have a good salary, great benefits, and I have time for work and rest.
I have started thinking about my life after retirement. Where could I be truly happy? Living in Canada with winter for six months of the year? Or should I move to a warm country? I no longer dream of high heels and I would love to retire my work boots. I dream of walking on golden sand in my bare feet, painting landscapes of warm water and beaches.