The Shoe Project


Shoe Story 83: Life is a Miracle

by Winnie Muchuba

Winnie Muchuba



The soil in Africa, especially in my country—the Democratic Republic of Congo—is red, a deep, welcoming red. The heat of the dry season is felt not only in the air and on the thermometer, but also radiating back into the soles of your shoes.

In this case, the soil was also red with the blood of my husband who was assassinated by the militia. My husband had been to Europe and studied there. He had ideas about how to bring clean water and electricity to the villages. But when he was working at one of his wells, he was murdered. At his grave, I spoke about his ideas, so the soldiers began to watch me and follow me. I knew I was in danger.

One must wear shoes with a firm fit so the dirt doesn't climb up into your toes; it will anyway, but be careful. The soil is solid. It's a dirt that has been there for eons and will be around for centuries more.

Flip-flops are not recommended!

I wore these flip-flops only in the house. They have a light sole and some design cut into the leather. They are made by pygmies. We buy them in the market to help the pygmy tribes earn a living. They are the kind of shoes that you wear when you go to the market looking for something to buy for the house. Just small things like bread, sugar, milk, or some drinks.

On that night, I wore them so I would look as if I were going for a short walk, not going far at all.

But I was going far. I was running away.

A straw bag is best for taking to the market. Held in the hand, it's light, easy to carry and open to pack with fresh produce and other food. You don't mind if it gets dirty from fish, as you can wash out the woven grass basket with ease and let it air dry.

I brought only sugar in this mysterious bag. With sugar, I could feed my six  children while we were running. Just by dipping my finger in it, with a little water.

With my straw bag containing sugar, I left the house in my sandals. I looked as if I was just going to the market to buy some small things. The soldiers did not follow me. The weather changed suddenly. It started raining and my shoes became slippery inside with mud, soil, and water.

I went to hide in the church Eglise du Potier. In the early morning, I took a taxi to the border. I slept in a place near the border, and in the morning, my children joined me.

My stepbrother had driven them.
We travellers, with six children, fled. We fled into a world of falling—no walls, no floor. Panic for food. Fear for water.  I just remember the eyes of my children questioning everything deeply in silence, as if asking themselves, “What is the sense of life?”

The journey was long. All the night driving. Miles. Miles. Miles. We crossed the border into Rwanda and took a bus to Kigali. Then we took another bus to Kampala, Uganda—and then my children to Kenya.

Words. Wordless. Words spoken among the runaways were scattered like seeds, seeds of hope in this bitter season. Then came the last word—like a gunshot.


Like a hammer. Like nails. No words, just flesh and blood poured out. The sounds of wailing clung like smoke to the mother. I left my children, unsafe and ran farther. One year later, they went into an orphanage. I did not know if I had done the right thing, to leave the children behind. I had to go ahead to save myself and give them a better future, later.

I could no longer walk, but I was carried by the spirits of my late mother—and my grandmother. She was a famous strong woman of our tribe, a queen without education who defended her village from invasion in 1964.

I came to Canada with the help of my friend Beth Richard from Manitoulin, Romero House in Toronto and Jubilee Fellowship Church. And now, three years later, my children have joined me. We left our country on March 3, 2012.

My shoes—precious vessels, witnesses. My shoes, crosses. They carried the weight of our desperate case and my seeking for a better place.


Other Shoe Stories from Session 9, Toronto:

76: Lost Shoes of a War

77: The High Heels I Brought to Canada

78: Leaving in Eight Hours

79: Eyewitness: Told by a Pair of Shoes

80: Crocheted Baby Booties

81: Trophy Shoes

82: The Ugly Uggs

83: Life is a Miracle

84: My Hercules Shoes

85: The Neighbour

86: My Shiny Witness


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