Monday, May 20, 2013

Cinderella's Slipper...PNG Version

I know there is supposed to be some sort of elusive but undeniable connection between women and shoes. I just watched the 8th graders put on their first production about Cinderella, and we all know how crucial the right shoes were to her life (even if their glass edges appear to me like machetes aimed at her Achilles tendon). I imagine that for some girls, shoes are a means of expressing personal style and taste, but for me, they’ve always been about function—would they let me stomp through snowbanks without frostbite or demonstrate I can do my job with professionalism (nevermind that it’s at a desk and my feet are hidden from view…)? If so, then check!

Oddly enough, here in Papua New Guinea (PNG), I may have reached an all-time high in the number of pairs of shoes that I own (eight, if you’re curious), and each of them have proven their invaluable worth in playing a specialized role in my work as a Bible translator. Most of these shoes I’ve had to bring from the States because the quality of shoes that I’d purchase here don’t tend to last more than a month (if that!) due to the severe abuse that they receive on a daily basis.

Curious? Well then, let’s tour the closet?

Yup, that's mud caked all over them. These guys are tough.
First, meet the sturdy hiking boots (or, to be more specific, they are portaging boots). These are the gunslingers of my closet (who I imagine would tell marvelous stories of their escapades in tough, gravelly voices). They are the ones who scrabble up rocks, sink into calf-deep mud until no longer visible and charge into rocky rivers without even a second thought, always remaining firmly attached to my feet, despite suction that would rival that terrifying machine in the Princess Bride. They provide the necessary support and stability for when I’m carrying a heavy backpack, but on the flip side, that also means they are hot, heavy, and not quickly removable. So, when I’m no longer backpacking 5 hours through the mountains, I move to my next invaluable pair…

When the terrain isn’t quite as rugged as would require the hiking boots, I pull out my Chacos; these are my go-to footwear in a village setting when I need a pair that can instantly switch from hiking across mountain gardens to shopping in the local town market to climbing into a canoe to going to church to playing volleyball to stopping by for some tea and kaukau at a local house. Oh my Chacos, how I love thee!

When I’m in Ukarumpa, my gum boots (or mud boots) are my dear friends, valiantly striving to keep my feet dry in trips to market, the post office, or even to church! Sometimes the grass can get quite high (or the puddles quite deep), and thus the two heights become invaluable. I've pushed out many a stuck car in these!

  Because most floors in Ukarumpa are hard (wood, tile, or linoleum—carpet is nearly nonexistant) and because in dry season (starting now) it can easily be in 50-60 degrees F in the mornings, my feet can get really cold. Praise the Lord for fuzzy slippers! In addition, two other pairs of footwear that have brought me many hours of enjoyment are my horseback riding boots (which protect my feet from frisky equines) and my water shoes (which protect my feet from frisky sea urchins).

And finally, my most commonly used set of footwear is my flipflops (or, as they are known here, “thongs,” but that can have strange connotations for American ears…). Rarely does a day go by that I haven’t tromped somewhere in these shoes. Most Papua New Guineans, if they wear shoes at all, wear thongs and are masters at repairing them, or even hiking dozens of miles in broken flipflops held together with bits of string. Of course, not all flipflops are made equal, and after destroying several pairs here, I have finally come across the perfect combination of tread, support, strength and durability! Nevermind that it’s bright turquoise; these flipflops have survived nearly a year—that’s a record!!

Of course, by far the easiest (and my favourite) is what we call lek nating, or merely barefoot. Oftentimes, I find that having those clingy, grippy toes makes scrambling through wet or muddy conditions much easier and safer. Most PNG’ns don’t use shoes at all, and their feet are wide and tough as the hardiest workboot. (But, since I never know what sort of sharp objects are hidden at the bottom of a mud cavern and since I live in the Land of Infection where cuts can harbor bacteria within moments, going barefoot does present its own set of risks.)

And that, my friends, is my shoe closet, with nary a glass slipper in sight. By lunchtime, I can easily have already worn three or more pairs of shoes, based upon my ever-changing job at the time. (Needless to say, matching the shoe to the outfit is quite irrelevant! I don’t know how many times I’ve worn those waterproof gum boots to church.) I wonder how Cinderella’s story would have changed if she wore mud boots to the ball?