My Good Companions in Life

Melba Chumbi


I was born and raised in Cuenca, Ecuador: a small and beautiful city surrounded by four rivers, mountains, and a forest and populated with kind people. I had good parents who taught me to appreciate the simple things in life.
Many years ago, my father helped me choose a pair of good quality but inexpensive black leather shoes. He said, “A good pair of shoes allows you to walk comfortably no matter how long or how difficult the journey is.” In other words, we must all be prepared for a long walk in our life.
When I was a little kid, I used to watch a telenovela called “Las Juanas” set in Colombia. I loved the romance of the stories and the colourful traditional dresses the women wore. Telenovelas play an important role in communicating Latin American issues. Many people watch these melodramas every day. The stories also have an impact on our understanding of ourselves and even influence dreams. So, , when it was time to choose a university, I applied for and was accepted to the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.
There my life took a 180-degree turn during my third year of studying medicine: I fell in love with my future husband. When I eventually became pregnant, we decided to move to his parents’ house in order to get some help with our first baby. We travelled to the south of Colombia near the Amazon where my husband was born.
Colombia is such a beautiful country with many natural resources, including delicious coffee, beautiful emeralds and a forest near the Amazon where they grow the tastiest fruits I have ever eaten in my life. But when my husband and I were there, much of the country was under control of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
I never imagined that the guerillas could have as much power as the military, but FARC had powerful weapons, helicopters and even a network of spies. I remember the first time we encountered a FARC checkpoint at the entrance of the village, which became a regular occurrence. Each time this happened, I was terrified. My mind would go blank. I could hardly breathe. You never knew if they were going to kill or kidnap you, and this was just the beginning of what I would experience in this place.
While we were there, from 1998 to 2008, many innocent people were killed or kidnapped, and many others had no other option but to live in the middle of the war. Fortunately, we survived, thanks to my husband’s family, who knew how to protect themselves. But eventually, we decided we didn’t want to raise our family in this dangerous place. We tried to escape by going back to my home country, but by that time, the guerillas had taken over part of Ecuador, too. We had no other option but to ask for asylum in a third country in order to save our lives. That is how we ended up in this beautiful place in 2008.

I will always remember when we arrived in Montreal. It was fall, a time of year when brightly coloured leaves covered the ground like a red blanket. I still consider this to be one of the best days of my life.
Through all these different places and different stages—school, marriage, family—I have had these plain black shoes as my good travel companions. It has been a long journey to get here, but now my life is peaceful and calm.

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