My Son’s Shoes
“A mother’s love is stubborn and does not know how to quit!” When Shakila Issa bought her son these shoes, he was thousands of miles away in Uganda. This story highlights the challenges mothers sometimes face when they immigrate. It also underscores that every woman’s fight for her family matters.
The day I left my son at Entebbe Airport, he was five months old.
He wore a light-blue plaid shirt, pint-sized jeans, and white sandals with black lines around the soles. He was asleep when I gave him to my friend who would look after him until I could be reunited with him in Canada.
These are my son’s shoes. I bought them in Winnipeg in 2018 and sent them to my son in Uganda. They caught my eye because they have black stripes on the sides, and they reminded me of the tiny sandals he wore the last time I saw him.
My son brought them back to Canada when we reunited in 2019—five years after I left him with my friend at Entebbe Airport.
I was born in Congo. My mother, brother, sisters, and I fled to Uganda in 2008 because of the eastern Congo war. My daughter and then my son was born in Uganda, but neither of them could claim citizenship there.
Our resettlement process took a very long time. In 2013, we got word that our resettlement application was finally under review. This was around the same time that I was pregnant with my son. My family worried that if I added my son to our resettlement application, it would delay the process, or worse, our application would be rejected altogether. We would be stuck in refugee limbo for the rest of our lives.
I complied. Still, I secretly tried to find out if I could add my son without delaying the process for the whole family. I was told that if I made any changes, it would take at least another two years before our names would be back near the top of the list. The best I could do, they said, was to go to Canada when our file was called and to apply for my son to join us after I landed.
Few forces are more powerful than a mother’s love.
Immigration policy is one of them. My first application to reunite with my son was denied because they did not accept the documents I used to prove I was his mother.
The other powerful force is economics. Legal aid denied my application to help with the appeal; instead, they furnished me with a list of immigration lawyers, each requiring a $2000 retainer.
But a mother’s love is stubborn and does not know how to quit!
I had only been in Canada for a few weeks. I was unemployed. I had no money for legal fees. But I had one mission: for me, my daughter, and my son to be together again. It took me a year to raise enough money to pay lawyers, get new documents, and file all the applications to bring my son to Canada.
In 2017, everything was set, and he was finally approved to join us. Then, I lost contact with my son. His father had taken him away, and the process stalled once again. I lived in Canada for five years before seeing my son again.
I met my son on April 25, 2019, at Winnipeg Airport. He wore his hair in dreadlocks that fell across his cute little face. He looked so tough in his green camo jacket with matching pants and brown and green ankle boots. He carried these little shoes back to me in his luggage.
I found the shoes in my basement a few weeks ago. They were sitting in a donation box full of things that no longer fit my kids. I was about to take everything to the thrift store, but I pulled the shoes out and kept them to remind myself that nothing is ever lost in life.
I hope my son will one day understand and forgive me for leaving him behind in Uganda. Our life in Canada is much better than the life we would have had there, but I regret the time that we lost.
These little shoes will be with me forever. They remind me that legal fights are always worthwhile and that mothers make unthinkable sacrifices when they move to a new country.
This is why I want to help other women navigate the legal and social system so they can protect their families. Time is precious, and before you know it, little shoes will no longer fit.
Shakila is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is a mom, interpreter, music lover, linguaphile, and aspiring lawyer. She considers reuniting with her children to be her biggest achievement. Shakila wants to tell her shoe story to inspire single mothers who find themselves navigating the Canadian legal and social systems.