Yasmin Lash sent this letter of appreciation to Katherine Govier, the novelist and founder of The Shoe Project. With Yasmin’s permission, we were gratefully publishing it on social media.
And then, we asked the Shoe Project alumnae, please write to us in response to the following question: What does it mean to you to be part of The Shoe Project? Now you can read all the answers on our website.
“It means that I could be myself”
My name is Yasmin Lash, and I was a participant in the Shoe Project in Halifax a couple of years ago. I realize it may be a little late now to write about my experience and thoughts on the process, but I hope that is ok.
I would like to start by saying thank you. It was a wonderful and meaningful experience. I am still in touch with some of the other participants. Before COVID restrictions, we even met a few times over coffee. Hopefully, we can continue doing that in the future.
As an immigrant, I feared that I would never get the chance to meet people outside of the circle of my culture. This project was the perfect opportunity to break that mold. I believe that writing in a group about our personal journeys emphasized that culture can be a bridge and not a barrier. It also reinforced my feelings that all immigrants share a similar unique subculture no matter where they come from. I want to add that Lorri Nielsen Glenn was wonderful in creating open and safe communication pathways for our group that enabled growth and learning.
Writing is a passion I’ve always had, and The Shoe Project was the perfect opportunity for me to write in English for the first time. With that said, writing can be intimidating sometimes, and that is especially true when trying to write in a second, third or fourth language. (I’m not certain if I should call English my third or my fourth language.)
As I joined The Shoe Project in my second year in Canada as an immigrant, I felt that the process of writing in English echoed in a lot of ways my struggles in using English on a daily basis. Language is a cultural tool. Learning a language is also connected to the culture and history of that specific language. But only when you’ve mastered the language are you able to express your own culture through it and bring yourself alive using it.
My English speaking level was high when I came to Canada. Technically, I could communicate efficiently. However, I did not feel that I could ‘be myself’ when I was using English. Words that I used did not feel familiar. I felt that I had lost the ability to be witty, use humour, cynicism, catch phrases and reply accordingly. This affected my ability to make true friendships and relationships. Any appreciation for what I could produce in writing or speaking didn’t feel enough since I knew in my heart that it was not matching what I could do in my first or second language.
That is why working on a short story in English challenged me in all the right ways. I didn’t have the ‘luxury’ to throw words away until I got my point clear. I had to be precise, to find and write the exact English words that expressed what existed in my head in another culture. Working with Ania Vesenny was hard, exciting, demanding and excellent in that way.
Ania was able to make me feel competent as a writer by challenging me to improve, find more fitting words and expressions. To treat each word as an entity of expression. In other words, to reclaim the written story as my own even though I wrote it in a ‘foreign’ language and thus claim English as mine to use. It was priceless.
I hope that the project will come back to Halifax again and offer a unique experience to many more. I know I will cherish it always.
Yasmin Lash grew up in a small Circassian community in Israel. She worked as an occupational therapist for 18 years before she immigrated to Canada in 2018 with her husband and four children. She is currently working at the Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS).
Read the story that Yasmin Lash wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Israel in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.