The Shoe Project

Jasmine Vases

by Gilda





Image to come



This winter has a different texture. The cold is not echoed in my despondent heart. The green of the pine trees, the white even snow, the wind, are all signs of delving deeper within, a regrowth, a rebirth. I am not afraid of every cloud anymore. I am liberated.

Six tumultuous years, beginning with our family’s immigration to Toronto, have passed. My first year in Canada was full of the sorrow of losing my beloved child. I was shattered to the ground. Rising up felt impossible.

We had been here six months and then returned to Tehran to visit. My son died suddenly in an accident just as we arrived. I brought his black sneakers that I had bought at the Eaton Centre. “An incredible sale! Buy one, get the second free.” One for me, one for Mahdi.  

But he was gone. We stayed for the 40 days of mourning that our culture observes. Then we returned to Toronto. I did not need any help. I just wanted to be alone. My denial was profound. One week later I attended a yoga class at GoodLife in the Sheppard Centre. It was dark in the room, and I could cry.

Six years later, my clothes show how I have changed. Then I was all in black. Now I dress like the rainbow and paint my fingernails a blend of warm colours: red, orange, yellow. However, I’m still wearing the same lace-up black leather sneakers.

As I get the subway to class, I see that one of my shoe laces is untied. I’m hit by a memory of my first year in Amjadieh swimming pool and the euphoria of being accepted to the national adolescent swimming team. My shoelace was untied that day too. I ran the entire way to the swimming pool with my brothers. I can still smell the jasmine in the large vases on the driveways on Bahar Street, and the cool umbrella of the sycamore trees on both sides. The stream of fresh water flowing from the mountains in the north is as vivid in my mind as it was that summer when I was 14.

I was excited on the first day of training that summer and agitated at the same time. It was a few months into the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and the days of the mandatory hijab had begun. Armed soldiers, half open doors, checkpoints…gosh, what’s happening?

I was banned from entering the pool. I was even banned from sport arenas. We were not allowed to see men’s bodies. My old friends had suddenly become aliens next to whom I was not allowed to swim. We were “only women” and it had been decided that our roles in society excluded us from being professional athletes. The day of farewell to my swim team was here.

That dream faded, but the passion remained.

After joining the yoga class near my new Toronto home, I started to train. For the first few months, I couldn’t understand a sentence that my teacher uttered. All these pronouns confused me. Memorizing the names and functions of the bodily organs was even harder. I used to carry my notebook back and forth between my classmates copying what they said. I learnt both yoga and English from students and teachers from all over the world.

I can see that as colourful and different as our appearances are, we are all united within. Women and men, side by side, are learning a new way of life in which gender differences dissipate into thin air.

Today marks the last practical exam of my two-year yoga teacher’s certification program. I have reached Broadview Station where the yoga sanctuary is. In one month, I will graduate as a professional instructor. So now, I am a jubilant, rainbow-coloured butterfly in the middle of a snowy winter.


Niloofar Mortazavi was born in Tehran, Iran. She is performing her mother, Gilda’s, story on her behalf.


Other Shoe Stories from Our Shoes Our Streets, Toronto, Sept 23 2018:

Jasmine Vases

Lucky Bird

My Mother’s Farmer Shoes

Shoes Tell Their Owner's Stories

Snow Boots 

Tan Lines of My Sandals

My Brown Shoes

The Rhythm of My Safety Shoes


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