The struggle of life over shoes

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Two suitcases full with sandals in Ghana

You would think shoes are shoes and shoe shopping is shoe shopping – all over the world. Well, you are wrong. I remember that many months ago, a shoe shop literally rolled into my office in two big suitcases (see picture). This is how things go in Ghana. So shoe shopping can really be different. And my latest experience underlines the statement of shoes are not always shoes.

I started the new year with very weak new years resolutions since I am not a big fan of waiting for this one day in the year to make plans for your future. While I sit on one of the small buses to a big bus station in town, I think that maybe I could start the year by buying a nice pair of shoes for the office. I have a few sandals but I consider buying flats. I giggle at the thought of this being one of my great new years resolutions. The bus comes to a stop and people push out of the oh so tiny bus door. After I manage the squishing around, I walk down the street that leads to a market where I plan to meet my friends. The dusty sidewalks, where people are supposed to be able to walk, are covered with piled-up products and women and men shout out that the people walking by should buy something. I pass the nicely aligned black shoes and realize that this one pair that I saw even before the Christmas break, is still there. While walking past the shoes, my inner sustainable self speaks to me and says “go ahead, second hand is a great way of shopping” and my inner southern German self says “you will even safe money”. I turn around abruptly and glance at the shoes again, how shiny black they are. I get closer to the pair I have been contemplating and I try not to touch it so that the seller does not come right away. The flats looks really nice and as soon as I stretch my hand out to grab one of the shoes, the seller is actually kneeling down saying “my friend, take off shoe and try on my shoe”. Before I can grasp a breath he had already opened my sandals. I try on the left shoe and realize that it’s a bit to small. “No, no, I know your size, this fits perfectly”, says the smiling young man who has lost a couple of teeth already in his early life. I try on the second shoe and believe that maybe when I wear the shoes for a while, they will stretch, totally disregarding the fact that they actually feel too small. “I give good price, you are my friend!” – the usual. My mind already sees me dancing into the office the next day with these shiny black flats on and so I start bargaining. “I give you good price and take you to my mother.” I ask what I should do at his mother’s place and he said “you can be my wife if I give good price”. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time I get such an offer. Looking at the man who stands barefoot in his way too big sized clothes in front of me, I give in and give him a price that I will not regret in the future, but that I know is way to over-priced for what I get. At that moment I do not realize what I actually get, still believing that it is a pair of too small shoes that might stretch if I get lucky.

At home, after meetings my friends, I bring the flats out of the plastic back and realize that a part of the shoe has some red color on it which I didn’t see when I bought it. I try to rub the color of with some water, which is unsuccessful. Still holding on to the belief that a bit too small and a spot of red won’t make the shoes bad, I place them nicely next to the door. It does not take long that I realize a strange smell in the living room, a smell that gets into your nose and feels like “oh this is not a good smell”. Ah, it must be the polish they used to clean the shoe, what can be so bad about it.

It takes me until the next morning before I realize what I have bought. I pick up the shoe to smell on it and it still smells toxic. While holding the shoe under my nose, I realize that there are more red spots. I come to the conclusion, that it is not polish, it is paint. The shoe is not black, but actually red. No, I still don’t regret buying them. What is so bad about paint and the red spot? I put the shoes on when I leave for work and happily walk to my bus stop. On my 5-10 minute walk from the bus stop to my office, I start struggling. The shoes are way to small and hurt terribly. A bit frustrated, I sit down at my desk, look at my feet and realize not only the small blisters on my heels, but also that the paint has colored my feet black. The toxic smell of the shoes instantly finds its way into my nostrils again. Anger rises up. How come I be so foolish.

I text Kofi, saying “My feet hurt. My feet are black. And that smell!”

He replies, “Sorry! Ghanaian experience!”

I write “One of those very bad Ghanaian experiences! But seriously, who paints shoes?”

He simply sends a “This is the struggle for survival. The struggle to make little money in any possible way.” back.

I don’t know whether I am more angry with me buying too small shoes or with the fact that someone actually paints red shoes with some toxic paint and then sells them. All I know is that the struggle of life of this tooth-missing man must be a real one.

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