My Secondhand Nikes

Akunna Onyedum (+Video)


The day these Nike sneakers came into my life, I had not set out to buy shoes. It was a hot and sunny afternoon in the densely populated city of Lagos, and I was going grocery shopping. As in every market area in Lagos, a city of nearly 20 million, the roads were full of vehicles, human beings and stray animals. I squeezed my car into a slot opposite a thrift store and walked towards the market. On second thought, I decided to ask the store attendant if it was okay to park my car there, so I stepped into the dimly lit store.

As my eyes adjusted to the blue light, a pair of reddish shoes caught my attention. They were made of breathable fabric, just the way I loved my sneakers to be. The previous owner had kept them clean, and the tread was in good shape. The price was friendly too, but I still bargained because that’s the way of life in Nigeria. As I walked out of the store with my new shoes, I had no idea how far they would go with me. 

At that point in my life, I was a victim of ongoing sexual harassment at work—from my boss. Being in Nigeria where such abuse is trivialized and women are easily slut-shamed, I knew that reporting him to the authorities was probably not a good idea. Besides, within our region, he was the authority. I was denied privileges other colleagues got because I was not “cooperating” with him. I walked into the office every morning all bright and cheery, but I was dying inside. I got depressed and lost confidence in my value at work, so I quit my job.

Six months earlier, I had received my visa to immigrate to Canada as a permanent resident, but I felt unprepared for such a big move. The odds were stacked against me: shutting down 35 years of living in Nigeria, moving halfway across the world during a pandemic, alone, to a country I had never visited, with no offer of employment waiting upon arrival. However, after quitting my job, I decided to go.

The first step was to dispose of my belongings. I packed my personal items into bags to send to my loved ones. While throwing my shoes into a bag, I picked up the Nikes. I stared at the big white tick logo that silently screamed “just do it”—the words I needed to hear. My fears began to dissolve into something that felt more like courage.

I grabbed my laptop, went online and filed a case of sexual harassment against my boss. After a series of meetings and investigations by the company, he was found guilty and was fired. I was glad I had found the courage to get justice and create a safer space for other women in the organization.

And one night in September 2020, wearing my secondhand Nikes, I walked into the Lagos airport to start the journey to my new life in Canada. As I sat in the departure lounge, my legs crossed, waiting to board my flight, I looked at my shoes and wondered, Did they inspire this much courage in the previous owner?

When I landed in Calgary, I was unimpressed at first. The large brown fields and grey evening skies made everywhere look gloomy, dusty and empty. There was hardly anyone on the streets, but I was prepared to enjoy my new country. My friend Jessica made sure I was comfortable. For counselling, I connected with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and the Centre for Newcomers. By the end of the year, I had made new friends and connected with mentors and associates. I also had a client relations job I loved at a government agency.

Whenever I slip into my Nikes, I acknowledge my own courage. This move to Canada remains the accomplishment of one of my wildest dreams. I just did it!

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