The Shoe Project

The Rhythm of My Safety Shoes

by Vathsala Aswathaman



I am a trained classical Indian dancer from Sri Lanka. When I perform, I wear makeup, and I am dressed in silk sarees with gold embroidery. I put on shiny earrings, arm bands, bangles and other ornaments, as well as a pottu in the middle of my forehead. On my ankles are salangai: metallic bells from my parents and blessed by my guru. When I dance or even talk, they make a rhythm, "taa, taa, taa". Even thinking about my salangai, I hear this rhythm.

In 2001, when I got married and came to Canada, I did not have many chances to dance. Instead, I worked in a factory. Have you heard of the Peek Freans cookie factory on O'Connor Drive? Well, that’s where I worked. I wanted to work and learn more about Toronto and the people. So why not at Peek Freans?

I had to wear a white uniform, a hairnet, ear plugs, blue latex gloves—and my safety shoes. They were a little heavy. Whenever I walked, my shoes made a sound like "tom, tom, tom". The sound reminded me of my dancing rhythm "taa, taa, taa".

On my very first day, I was on the “Oreo” assembly line. Cookies were coming very fast along the chain like army ants. Quickly but carefully, I picked up rows of cookies and placed them into the boxes. I had to go so fast.

I experienced all the shifts, I even worked the midnight shift. Once I worked a 12-hour shift on the Oreo cookie line. I didn't know how I did it! Cookies came on a conveyor belt. We picked them up and put them into the chute. The machines made loud noises like "taka-taka, taka-taka". My fingers seemed to be dancing as they lifted the cookies. The sound of the machines mixed with my dancing rhythm made a sound like "takita takita takita". It was amazing. I could hear my music on an Oreo cookie line.

The next day, I worked on the “Digestive” cookie line. The cookies came in four fast lines. I filled the trays. After filling the trays, I had to carry them to the other side of the floor. If a heavy tray fell, it would hurt my feet. I was a bit worried. I often looked down at my safety shoes. They seemed to be smiling at me. They were saving my dancing feet.

After my first week, I was stressed out. I didn't get the factory life. It was very different from my normal dance life. When I first saw all the huge, noisy machines and the bright lights, I felt scared. My arms became very tired after a day of packing the cookies. I was surprised to see how my co-workers were packing the cookies very quickly. I thought I could never pack them so fast, but after a few shifts, I got used to the speed. I caught the rhythm.

I was always happy to see my name on the Fruit Creme cookie line. I loved the sweet smell and cheerfulness of those cookies—with the big circle of strawberry jam in the centre. “Mmmm”, and I still love them.

Eventually, I started training children to dance, and I had to say goodbye to Peek Freans forever.


Vathsala Aswathaman wrote Rhythm of My Safety Shoes in 2014, She is a Tamil mother, and teaches classical Indian dance.


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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