Khujesta Sadri is working on her thesis in Bishkek’s library when the email comes. She must leave immediately to join Afghani refugees in Tajikistan, the first step to Canada and safety. At the airport, she learns that her hurriedly packed luggage is too heavy — it is a choice between warm winter boots and pink sneakers. Which does she choose to set foot in Canada in 2012?
It was a cloudy day around two in the afternoon in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I was working on my thesis in the university library when a friend called to say that all students had to leave campus immediately. There was a political demonstration in front of the parliament buildings.
I quickly made my way home. My roommates were out. I kept thinking about my thesis topic. But, suddenly, I received an email from my eldest sister Sayara in Canada. I had to drop everything and leave Bishkek to join the rest of my family in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, a kind of transition place where Afghan refugees were processed through United Nations organizations. I was surprised. It all happened so suddenly.
At that time, we were still involved in a family dispute over land rights in Afghanistan, our homeland. The property belonged to my father, but my uncles threatened to kill him over it. That is why my family sought refuge in Tajikistan. We had been waiting for a long time for this news about our Canadian visas. All nine of us had to leave together. My emotions were mixed. Of course, I was thrilled that we were destined for a democratic country where women have equal rights, but I was also frustrated because I was in my last year of my bachelor’s degree, and I was almost ready to graduate.
However, since I had no other choice, I started packing when I read my sister’s email. I left behind all my textbooks and notebooks, along with other reminders of my best friends and my student life in Bishkek. After almost five years, it was hard to throw all that away.
The next day, I bought my tickets, my visa and some Kyrgyz souvenirs. Then I thought about what shoes I would wear on my journey. Although I had many shoes, including high heels, boots and sandals, my comfortable pink sneakers were the most appealing. I chose to pack them as a memory of my friends who called me “Pinky” for my favourite colour.
I arrived safely in Tajikistan, where I met my parents and six brothers and sisters. Anxiety ate away at me when our flight was cancelled several times. We were afraid, expecting something bad to happen. But, no, this time, our good luck door was open. Finally, after one week of waiting, we were ready to board the plane.
On the day of our flight, we had to get our luggage scanned and weighed again. We were over the limit of 23 kilograms per person—which meant that we had to discard some of our belongings. One of my sisters said that I had to choose between my new warm boots and my pink sneakers. I was already wearing the boots, yet I just couldn’t leave behind my pink sneakers. They were such a strong reminder of my dear friends and professors. I removed the boots and put on my only pair of pink sneakers. I knew I would miss my warm boots in Canada, especially on snowy days. I wished I could carry them with me, but we have to lose something to gain something else in life.
I wore my pink sneakers all the way from Tajikistan to Turkey and then to Toronto. While we were waiting at the Toronto Airport for Sayara to pick us up, an old woman approached me and said, “Your sneakers are so cute. I like that pinky colour.”
Pinky? Hearing that one word took me back instantly to my precious student life. Even though I have come to a safer country where I can finally enjoy the freedom that women in my homeland dream of, I’ll never forget what I left behind.
KHUJESTA SADRI is from Afghanistan. She arrived in Canada in 2012 and completed her Political Science degree at York University. She is the mother of two handsome sons.