Whenever matters shoes are mentioned, a flood of nostalgic memories of life and times when shoes were a foreign subject in remote land recur. It was a rare object; an object of beauty, of envy, a wonder to behold but also an object and subject of constant suffering. One was damned with them and damned without them.
The trials and tribulations that this Assistant Junior Clan Elder(AJCE), that is yours truly, he who is domiciled in the Remoteroute land, has gone through as it concerns this articles and artifices worn, shorn, tied and at times affixed on our soles have and continue to be so many that at times it feels as if our souls will be damned hereto as a result.
As a Remoteroute mohine, that is tough guy, yours truly didn’t encounter these blessed articles of clothing till when he had completed what was 1st phase of the then a zero system of education (or what does eight less four less four result to?) at the Remoteroute primary school.
In those days, the so called academies which are the bane of today’s parent pockets didn’t exist. The most advanced of the elites in the Remote village(the clergy and the teachers) would take their kids to boarding schools.
Primary schools (that meant day schools ) were not for the faint hearted. Especially matters urinal and latrines- no ablution blocks then- but we survived barefoot.
We were tough guys then from the start. Unlike today’s digital babies who have to be mollycoddled with mother’s milk for a whole half year, we never had such luxury. We were in a big hurry to be seen and to see the world, so at the earliest convenience we started chewing what our toothless gums could handle. The process was as analogue as we were. Our tougher mothers, who would have delivered the same day they had spend in the farm, would select a good sized and well matured green banana. There was a specific kind of ‘child banana’ which would be roasted nice, brown and sweet while buried in hot ash. The good mother would then refine it by chewing thoroughly. When nicely chewed, fluid and tender, using the forefinger, the resultant paste would be forced into our mouths until our stomachs would be full, round and tender.
By the time six, nine and twelve moths elapsed, we would be such sturdy, agile and tough tohines that we would run in the rain bare chest and not even a whisper of cold would be heard. Despite all the energy and plant carbohydrate our old pals buffeted us with, once in a while, a challenge would occur- the sturdy round stomach would continue to elongate, the arms and leg would thin and red firely crown would be erected in our heads where once black hair stood.
On spotting such a dare, our innovative parents would spring to action- ‘animal protein’ was required pronto. In the remote land, animals were plenty in all shapes, sizes and habitats. The above symptoms pointed only one direction for cure- our underground furry friend to the rescue. So the fathers then would mount an operation restore black hair. Armed with a hollowed out small stem with a few holes bored at intervals, a rope strung and a flexible pole, the old fellows would scout the land for moulds made by the burrowing underground animal protein carriers aka moles. Within a week, with several catches of juicy sharp teethed little furry friends, the hair colour would be restored, the legs and arms enriched and the mohine better than ever. Unlike today when cat meat big deal, nobody raised a finger then on such succulent feeding.
So such a tough fellow never needed to hide his hide under hideskins in the name of footwear. However, as the influence of foreign gods and men began to be felt, yours truly started his continuing battle with footwear. After watching and praying, and especially for the sake of visiting the good Lord’s house on Sundays- a day when he would meet, nay clash with water over his entire breadth, width and height- and only on Sunday, he would be obliged to put on a pair of shoes.
The trouble with this exercise was twofold. First, in the wisdom of his parents, a fit shoe was a no no. It had to be two sizes bigger so as to serve longer. So yours truly would have to stuff all manner of foreign objects to fill the spacious shoe. And then fit his feet. The second challenge was that other shoes were always too small. This was a result of inheriting the retired but better off shoes which would be a size or two too small for him. In either case, the wearer suffered but as a rule, we persevered. And got blisters. And hated shoes. This meant that as soon as we returned home from Sunday school, we would throw the shoes as far as we could- and exhaled in the freedom.
At the remote route, we love and cherished our animals. As earlier alluded, animal protein was a precious part of our curative therapy. Since our affection for all kinds of animals was well established, it was rude and uneconomical to build separate dwellings for animals. Indeed, animal rights brigade opened first post at Remoteroute. So the boys would be bundled together with goats, dogs and chicken. In part, I suppose it was for heat/warmth transfer and retention. Our residential house –floor, wall- were earthen and water was a scarce resource. It therefore followed that not only did we wake up smelling like billy goats but we become natural habitats for all kinds of small borrowing and biting insects. Chief among the insects were fleas and lice. Since in a way we had to keep the food chain unbroken, fleas would graduate to jiggers as a halo of white covered our head.
When it came to shoe-craft, a white head was preferable any day to swollen toes. Worse suffering would be in store if in the process of mitigating against jigger infestation, by use of thorns and safety pins, half if your toes would be torn and shred. Any kind of footwear would be pure torture but as tough fellows bravely persevered and smiled.
At that time, certain not so scrupulous traders brought plastic shoes which would change shape and size depending on the temperature. In the morning they would refuse to fit. In the afternoon, they have enlarged such that they simply didn’t fit. Between dragging them and carrying then aloft, it was a choice between two evils.
Concomitant with the above tribulations, removing shoes was an environmental disaster which would have required an impact assessment report before it happened. Wiser heads when on a visit would happily let you step in with the shoes rather than risk the pungent smell tainting their houses for days later. Even the introduction of socks later on didn’t abate the menace.
Today, whenever I visit my better off friends and relatives and find pairs and pairs of shoes outside their doors, am always forced to do a quick calculation. Will my visit add any value to them? Do I have to expose my malformed smelly footwear and force smiles of anguish on my host? Next time i decline your visit invitation, look no further than my feet.
The passing of many moons, floods and droughts has not changed much.. Despite having slaughtered several goats to be inducted as a Assistant Junior Elder, my shoes still tend to get an academic angle after wearing them for a short while.
Despite all the fights and struggles, my shoe tribulations and trials of this wearer persist.
I need an urgent intervention.