At the End of the Tunnel There Is a Light
Bisrat Yosief (+Video)
When the situation in her home country becomes unbearable, a woman is forced to give up her shoes en route to freedom.
It was fall with a chill wind slapping my face. I shared with my friend Amlish that I was leaving my beloved city, where I dreamed I would live all my life, and would be starting my life-or-death journey.
In shock, Amlish responded, “How? They are going to catch you and beat you to death.”
I answered, “At least I’ll have the chance to find the light at the end of the tunnel instead of living in the tunnel forever.”
We were chatting on the way to the shoe store. When we got there, I bought myself plastic sandals, the kind our freedom fighters wore during the thirty-year war for independence in my country. But instead, these soldiers put us forever in slavery under dictatorship. Life was unbearable, working without pay for the government. I was ready for my journey to freedom in my freedom shoes.
My first obstacle was getting through all the checkpoints guarded by armed soldiers. I didn’t have the correct papers. I came up with the idea to dress up as an old lady. The soldiers wouldn’t be interested in where an old woman was going. I snuck into my mom’s closet and found my grandmother’s old clothes, including her long white shawl. I had lied to my mom the day before that I would be going to a monastery for three weeks.
Now I slipped out and headed for Amlish’s house. When I arrived there, I got dressed and braided my hair in a style common among old women and sprinkled myself with holy soil to protect myself. Then I hugged my friend and left for the bus depot with my freedom shoes hidden in the shawl and tucked under my arms.
The bus passed ten checkpoints on the way to the Ethiopian border. I pretended to sleep with my shawl over my face. During the trip, I overheard two passengers talking about some students who had been shot and killed trying to escape. I was feeling anxious and scared.
After I got off the bus, I had to walk for four hours. Finally, in early morning, I reached the border of Ethiopia. Soldiers were patrolling, but a festival was going on. I hoped to cross unnoticed. I could see Ethiopian soldiers in the distance at the top of the hill on the other side.
I was about to put on my freedom shoes when a mob of children saw me and started to throw rocks. A shout came from them, “Liar! You’re not old. You’re running away!”
These kids had been brainwashed into believing that their country was the Star of Africa. Whoever tried to escape was a spy or a betrayer. I got an idea to offer my shoes to those children. I called, “My children, would you like these shoes?”
“You’re not our mom!” they yelled.
I was lucky. One kind child stopped them. He gave me the hope of my freedom again. He shouted, “Let her go!”
Hearing that, I threw my shoes to him to get my freedom. Then I started to run in bare feet toward the hill where the soldiers from Ethiopia were on guard. It was steep and rocky. My feet started to bleed. They felt like they were melting without the protection of my shoes. I fell. A soldier rushed over and helped me up.
With the touch of his hand, I started my decade-long journey through the dark tunnel, crossing Ethiopia, Sudan, the Sahara Desert of Egypt, to Israel.
Finally, I stepped out of that darkness into the light, finding myself in Canada and breathing the air of freedom.
Bisrat Yosief has an accounting degree from Eritrea. She came to Canada three years ago, works as a settlement worker and lives happily with her family.