Salvaged Shoes

Justine Meso


From a trash heap in Nairobi to the shiniest pair of leather shoes she owns, Justine’s black boots have an unbelievable beginning. “Salvaged Shoes” is a story about hope, community, and second chances.


I met these shoes in Nairobi, Kenya. I came to Canada wearing them. When I was in Kenya, they were the only pair I had. To this day, I treasure them dearly.


We lived in a UN refugee camp in Kenya. We barely had enough of the basic necessities. I had no shoes at all. Then one day, I went through the garbage and found these shoes. The bottoms had been worn down to nothing. 


The owner had thrown them away because they were useless. But I saw something that needed a fresh start. They looked about my size. The black leather was of good quality and in excellent shape. The laces made them look stylish, and the ankle-high uppers gave them a sporty feel. I immediately fell in love with them, so I picked them out of the trash, took them to my husband and asked him to help me repair them.


My husband took the shoes to one of the camp security officers and begged her to get them fixed. She brought the shoes back one week later. She had taken them to a cobbler who gave the shoes new heels, polished up the leather, and made them look brand new. We didn’t have money to pay the security officer to fix the shoes, so we gave her some lotion. She was happy with that. 


I was so glad to see the shoes again. They were sparkling and looked useful, just like I imagined they could be. I wore my new shoes to all my appointments in Nairobi: immigration, medical, lawyer, and court.  I felt great when I wore them. 


Everyone said I looked good. Everyone commented how nice my shoes were. No one believed me when I told them I had saved them from a Nairobi trash heap. They could not imagine that they had been in such a terrible state. 


When we got news that we would be resettled in Canada, I told my husband, “I cannot leave these shoes. They are a part of my story.”  Wearing these shoes, I stepped off the plane in Winnipeg on November 12, 2021.


Today, my shoes remind me of all the difficult moments I passed through. Looking at them now, I see what I was and what I survived. They remind me of the lessons I learned. I experienced many terrible things in my life, but I did not give up. I repaired myself with help from my husband and people at UNHCR Nairobi, the Winnipeg Women’s Centre, and places like Mosaic and the Immigrant Centre of Manitoba. 


These shoes have been with me for a long time. I still love them and take excellent care of them. They are a part of my story. My shoes remind me of the help, hope, and all the good that can come from bad moments.

Justine is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is currently studying English. She cherishes the time she spends with her family and enjoys being a parent. She is participating in The Shoe Project because she wants to tell her personal narrative of finding hope and healing. She also likes encouraging other women to continue seeking help and support.

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