Barefoot in paradise

Oct 1, 2006

At a Peace Corps recruiting event the other night, I met a guy who served in Cameroon and was back only a few months. I mentioned to him that I’d finally retired my Teva sandals, eight years after I’d gotten them from another Volunteer who was leaving Vanuatu.

“I’m never giving up my sandals,” the Cameroon Volunteer told me, and I knew just how he felt. In the session, I and two other RPCVs had talked about the readjustment phase. I mentioned a story I previously wrote about:

I was walking among the crowds crossing the street to Chicago’s Water Tower Place, and I wanted to scream out, “I just want to be recognized!” All these people, coming and going and rubbing elbows with me, but not one stops and greets me.

But what I didn’t mention was how bare toes eventually succumb to shoe-bound feet necessitated by our professions, climate or sense of style. I loved living in Vanuatu, especially because I could spend my days in flipflops or Tevas or even playing soccer in bare feet (that stopped once I broke a couple of toes). Hearing a fellow RPCV exalting the freedom of bare feet reminded me of actually being able to feel the world through my feet. (Remember the scene in Pretty Woman, where Richard Gere gains a little humility by walking in the grass?)

I’ve found myself getting frustrated with Anna and Malia lately. The minute they’re in the car, they kick off their shoes, and they can barely keep their footwear on when they play outside. I’m aware of the dangers of being barefoot outside—worms, for example, and rusty nails—but I’ll cut my daughters some slack. In fact, I’m headed outside right now, barefoot, to play in the sandbox.

Anton Zuiker

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