6 Minutes with The Shoe Project
Toronto, George Ignatieff Theatre, March 2020
A new world, new life, new career, new country, new people, and new shoes. Everything was new to me. I still look back on all the happy changes in my life and the journey that made me the person I am today. It all started in my home country, Sri Lanka.
After finishing high school, I was incredibly excited to be accepted to the Fine Arts University of Jaffna. I felt like a fluttering butterfly. I would follow my dreams and become a classical dancer. Immediately, I got my salangai: the metallic bells I wear when I dance barefooted. They were given to me by my parents and blessed by my guru. I took them to the shrine room and prayed with them.
Unfortunately, this happiness didn’t last long. That very year the civil war in Sri Lanka began. The bombings, shellings, shootings, and curfews. Little did I know that it would change my future. My parents refused to let me attend the university. I couldn’t stop crying. I argued with them for weeks. But finally, I realized that I had to choose between my ambition and my safety.
I decided to change my plans and I went to the Polytechnic.
I learned to typewrite 90 words per minute. I learned Pitman shorthand. Soon I got a job at Delmon Hospital as a stenotypist. For my new job, I bought new shoes and a new handbag. As I walked down the streets of Wellawatta, I felt very proud to start this new chapter and to wear my brand new pair of high-heeled shoes. They made a sound like “dock, dock, dock”.
At work there were new people and a new language: Sinhalese. Every month, after I got my salary, I would buy a new pair of high-heeled shoes from the famous Colpetty Shoes shop. Black, brown, white, printed, dark navy blue, and more. My parents indulged me because they knew I was still sad.
Delmon Hospital had smooth marble floors. You could hear a pin drop. Occasionally, I helped type lab reports. Then I had to go to the third floor. I couldn’t use the elevator. Only patients and their families could, so I walked up the stairs in my heels. They made a sound “tock, tock, tock”.
“I was incredibly excited to be accepted to the Fine Arts University of Jaffna. I felt like a fluttering butterfly… That very year the civil war in Sri Lanka began.”
Around the same time, my parents arranged my wedding. When I first saw my husband, I immediately thought to myself, I need to wear killer heels because of how tall he is! So, for the day of my engagement, I bought a new pair of shiny, golden, high-heeled sandals.
After we got married, my husband sponsored me to immigrate to Canada. When I arrived at Pearson Airport, I had my whole collection of high heels with me. Soon after my arrival, I realized that everyone else was wearing boots. Once again, I started a new chapter of my life: new people, new country, new weather, new place, and new boots—but only when I absolutely need them. (Most often I still wore heels.)
After a couple of years, I got pregnant. And then something shocking happened. My husband
threw out my entire collection of high-heeled shoes! The shoes I had bought with so much excitement! He said they were unsafe. But I couldn’t last long without heels, so I soon went to the mall to buy more. It was not like Colpetty Shoes. Here in Canada, it is very hard to find high heels for my small shoe size. I had to settle for mid-heeled ones.
To this day, I never leave the house without wearing heels. They give me confidence—because I’m short. They make a sound like “tock, tock, tock”…It reminds me of my past. Although many things changed, I’m still the same person.
Vasthsala Aswathaman, a Classical Bharadha Natyam dancer, dreams of university until the civil war in Sri Lanka interrupts those dreams. Instead, she finds office work at a hospital, always dressed smartly, confident in new high heels. When she moves to Canada, she brings her shoe collection with her, a reminder that though many things in her life have changed, she remains linked to her past.