The Meaning of New Shoes

(c) J. Winter Photography, 2011

“Ah, Jenni,” Irene smiled as she picked up a small pair of the faux Converse All-Stars, “they are really going to remember this!”

“Huh?”  I looked up from a long list of names and measurements in my little black notebook and sighed, “remember what?”

“You know,” she continued, ignoring my question, “even me, I remember my first pair of shoes.  And they were not even new, they were used!”

“What did they look like?”

“I can see them!” Irene closed her eyes and turned her face toward the ceiling of the stuffy Bata shoe store.  “They were just black school shoes, but they meant so much to me!”  She laughed her little girl giggle, “they were so old and worn out!  I only wore them for a few months, then they fell apart completely, so I had to go without again.”

I picked up a stiff pair of black leather school shoes and held them out to Irene.  “Like these?”

“Yes.”  She nodded her head as she looked at the shoes.  “Yes, like those ones.”

“How old were you?”

“Me, I was in standard 8.  Before I went to Form 1 in the high school.”  I unsuccessfully tried to hide my astonishment, “Yes, Jenni, standard 8!”

“But they only lasted for a few months?”  I prompted.

“Yes, and then I went back to school with the bare feet and I got in trouble.  So my auntie, she bought me a brand new pair because the shoes, they were required.”  Irene smiled again, remembering the stiffness of the leather and the thick soles.  “Jenni, I am telling you,” she proclaimed, “those kids are really going to remember this day!”

I looked from the shoes in my hands to her sincere eyes, and suddenly understood the importance of her statement.  I remembered back to shoes of my youth.  Going to Vose Bootery with my mom and little sisters to pick out brand new, matching shoes for each season was a big outing for all of us, always resulting in matching brand new shoes for little Jenn and little Lizzy.  I remembered the purple beaded moccasins (Lizzy had pink) and the white woven sandals with the ankle strap and the white Keds that my mom would put in the washing machine with bleach.  I even remember the soft pink bunny slippers and the blue and white snow boots.  And, of course the balloon we received after my mom bought the shoes.  That was, possibly, the best part of going to the shoe store when I was little.

It had been a long time since I’d been in the kids section of a shoe store, but this time was different.  The previous morning Irene and I had measured the dusty little feet of almost 100 kids at Kikopey with a string and wrote down the centimeters in my notebook.  I suggested bringing one of each size to the camp to determine the sizes more efficiently but, as Irene quickly reminded me, “Ah, Jenni!  You are in Kenya, look around!  This is how we do it here.”  The very pregnant sales associate and I were, as a result, busy converting centimeters into shoe sizes.

After visiting every single Bata shoe store in Nakuru (about 6 stores in 3 blocks) we had finally collected all of the shoes and correct sizes and were ready for the madness that is any sort of distribution at an IDP Camp.  It involves lots of grabbing and pushing and yelling and accusations, but, in the end, everyone leaves happy.

Honestly, the scene was comical.  David, who I’ve decided reminds me of Grandpa Winter (one of the highest compliments any man can receive) got in the back of the van to find the correct sizes while Irene and I called names, presented shoes and crossed people off of the list.  By the end of it, my own shoes were unrecognizable and my jeans were covered in dust from the knees down.  But the looks on those little faces when presented with a brand new pair of shoes was priceless: awe and disbelief.  I found myself wishing that all of the generous donors who had made the event possible were there to take it in with me, to bask in the appreciation for something so often taken for granted.  Of course, the shoes were dusty within minutes of being tied onto those sweet little feet, and I smiled as I witnessed several Dust Babies bend down to wipe them off after every few steps, taking great pride in the appearance of their new footwear.

Irene was right, this was a day that will stay in the memories of these beautiful children: children who witnessed so much horror and violence, who had to leave their homes only to be shuffled from camp to camp.  This was a good day.  A great day.  One of the best.

Newly Shoed Dust Babies: Mary Nduta, Samson N., Grace Wanjiru, Susan Waithera, Steven M., Peter K., Esther M., Jeff, Peter M., Phyllis, Pricilla, Nancy, Joseph K., George S., Vincent, Juliet, Joseph K., John Mwangi, Irene, Muthoni, Moses, Gladys Wambui, Carolyn, Sarah, Mark, Martin, James Kimany, Lilian Wambui, Margaret Wambui, Alice, Moses, Muchiri, Katherine Wambui, Henry, Joseph Kamau, Kerison, James, Kamau, Yvonne, Elvis Kamau, Maurice, Simon , Grace, Steven N., Anne N., Brian K., Teresa, Edward, John W., Samuel, Harrison, Lucy, George, Julia, Joseph M., John M., Samuel N., Anne Njeri, Margaret N., Paul K., Brian, Lucia, Dan, Thomas, John Kimani, Mary Wanjiru, Esther, Wambui, Michael, Steven, Faith, Daniel, Daniel K., Margaret N., Susan, Mary Njeri, Samuel, Peter, Damaris W., Beth F., Kevin G., Peter W., Isaac, Joseph N., Jackson, Mary, Rueben, Joseph W., Peter and Teresia

Generous Donors: Christine Botica, Robin Downe, Barb Wood, Sally Winter, Barbara Winter, Jan VandenBrink, Nikki Schnitzler  Asante sana!


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