My Bleu Running Shoes

Ama Dogbefou


In 2017, I was living in the West African country of Togo. I was a wife and the mother of two lovely boys. I was also open-minded, cheerful, and always ready to serve others. I knew most of the people in my community, a city called Aneho, and they knew me. Working in a hospital as a psychosocial counsellor, I was in charge of LGBTQ+ patients, pregnant women and children who lived with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and cancer. Not knowing what awaited me at my office, I left my house every morning, but I returned home every night knowing the clients had received good care and renewed hope. I was truly fulfilled.

My whole life changed in September 2017. I had spent a beautiful day leading a recreational activity with children, but later that night, there was a knock at my door. There were six soldiers outside. They beat me and then arrested me because I had recently participated in a political demonstration. After I had been locked up for 24 hours without eating or drinking, one of the policemen recognized me and helped me escape. He said, “If you value your life, go hide for a while.” He also gave me a little money.


I ran barefoot for two kilometres until I crossed the border into the neighbouring country of Benin. Then I looked for a phone so I could call my husband. He had been searching for me for hours. My children had been crying all day because they woke up and their mom was gone. My husband arrived later that night and arranged for me to stay with a friend. I thought this would be a temporary situation, but the Togolese police kept looking for me. 


After a few weeks, my husband suggested that I go to Canada as I already had a visa. (We had planned to attend a conference in Montreal in the summer  of 2017, but it was later cancelled). It was a difficult decision. I didn’t want to leave my children, but I knew I could be killed if I stayed. Once I made up my mind to leave, I went shopping for shoes for my long journey. I saw some blue runners that touched my heart. They looked comfortable and pretty, but I also loved that the colour represents both the sky and the sea, which I associate with freedom.


I arrived in Canada in October 2017, finished my refugee claim in late November and then realized I was pregnant. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t study because of my immigration status. I had to adapt to Canadian culture, which seemed to be the opposite of my Togolese culture. And I missed my boys desperately. Despite my background in psychology, I found it difficult to deal with everything that was happening to me. Depression was taking over my life. But the birth of my daughter helped me emerge from this difficult time. She became the hope of my life. 

Eventually, I became involved with the local Francophone immigrant community and began volunteering. I started English classes at NorQuest College in 2020 where I was nominated for the Patsy Price Language Training Award in 2021, which recognizes academic excellence and the promotion of harmony among cultures. 

Despite everything, with the help and support of incredible people, I managed to create a new life. Then on June 4, 2021, I became a permanent resident, but I do not yet know when Immigration will allow my two sons to join me. Living without them for more than four years has been unbearable. Little by little, their absence is killing me. 

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