Put Yourself Into Some Peace Corps Shoes

No, I am not being metaphorical, I just felt that today I would randomly blog about shoes, and the role they play in a Peace Corps volunteer’s life. It’s a funny concept, footwear, because being in Kenya I am pulled in many different directions as to what I should don ever morning. The temperature (and kids running around) tell me barefoot if possible! My Peace Corps Medical-honed brain says to at least cover the soles of the feet to avoid stepping on something nasty. My outdoorsy side screams hiking boots. My teachers all where nicer-looking loafers or shoes, and so I strike a balance: closed-toe, “Jesus sandals,” that cover my feet while allowing them to breathe: a necessity in this heat.

But not all volunteers are like me. First off, not all of us are teachers, and even those that are can get away with some different things. The girl teachers can sometimes get away with wearing flip-flop style sandals if they look nice. Or, if they want to play the, “white card,” they can get away with almost anything (girls have an easier time with their feet methinks). Guy teachers, I guess end up in a similar position as me, and some will wear closed shoes if in a cooler climate, and some will wear sandals. I just don’t have a nice pair of non-closed sandals to wear, that is why I wear them.

Business volunteers on the coast are mostly in completely open sandals. When I am not in my teaching clothes, I wear a pair of Bata flip flops that my neighbor says matches very well with my one pair of shorts and she says I look, “very smart.” Of course, very smart translates into tourist, and whenever I wear my khaki cargo shorts and flip flops, I am harassed ten times as much. I usually stick to jeans and my closed-toe sandals. My friend Jeff wins the award though, probably being the only person on the entire coast wearing western-style cowboy boots on a regular basis, though he also broke down and bought a pair of open sandals at the good shoe store in Mombasa.

Moving inland, things get a bit different. The temperatures cool down, and I bet there’s a lot more walking than what the volunteers on the coast have to do in general. When I was in Loitokitok, I used my hiking boots almost exclusively, though when I am in Nairobi, I will either use my sandals or my cross-trainers. Some of my friends have cross-training hikers, or lite-hikers, whatever they are called, and others use sneakers. Still, many people use sandals, as it’s never that cold in Kenya, ever.

Then there is the once a year occasion that randomly pops up that requires nice shoes. We were told to bring them. I have worn my nice pair of dress shoes I think three times: for my first (and last) Kenyan church service in Loitokitok, for my swearing-in ceremony in Nairobi and for Christmas Eve in Torino, Italy this year. That’s it. It’s frustrating when we are told to bring these things and then barely ever use them. Such is the preparation for Peace Corps Service though.

Which brands stand the test of time? My hiking boots survived two months straight of walking 11km a day in Kenya, and they are LL Beans. But they have not seen use since that due to the heat on the coast. My Merrell closed-toe sandals are tearing a bit along the seams, though I take good care of the leather, polishing it and waterproofing it regularly, so it’s just the stitching that is a problem. The soles are a little lopsided, but that’s only because I roll my feet a bit when I walk. People seem to love Keens, and I know my friend Harmony loved her Keen river-shoes. Jeff’s Merrells seems to be holding up. People also seem affectionate of their Chocos, and I have heard bad things about Reefs. Sneakers of regular brands don’t survive, so use them only for sports. There is also one of the new Secondary Ed. teacher who has a pair of the Vibram five-toe shoes, and he absolutely loves them. I really want a pair as well, but you cannot get them in Kenya as of yet.

Most of us end up with one of the local options, which means either having a local fix a pair of shoes you brought from home using an elaborate combination of staples, tacks, nails and glue and rope, or buying some local shoes at the market for inexpensive prices and just expecting them to break. Sometimes though you find a random pair of original Timberlands or Merrells in the local markets, but people don’t appreciate western shoe-brand as much, so they are often overlooked. When I go home, I honestly only want to take maybe three pair with me: my LL Bean boots, my Merrell cross-trainers and my nice dress shoes. The rest will probably be left behind, battered and broken.

Did I seriously just write an entire blog post on shoes? Yes I did…

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