Before I moved to Mozambique last year I had over 80 pairs of shoes (counting slippers and hiking boots and water shoes). I love shoe-shopping and I love shoe-wearing and am quite the sucker for anything colored, anything with a beautiful heel, anything comfortable, anything chic... It's fair to say that I have a small addiction to shoes and that over the years I've spent a much larger portion of my salary on footwear than I really should have. But shoes made me happy, made me feel beautiful when I thought I was fat, made me excited when I felt lonely, and gave me confidence when I felt alone and insecure in a new city with no friends.
When I decided to move to Mozambique, I obviously couldn't bring all 80 pairs of my beloved shoes with me. I would have to make some difficult decisions and whittle down my shoe collection to a manageable amount to travel with. Some shoes I gave away to my colleagues at work. Others I donated to Goodwill. Some I boxed up and shipped along with my furniture and books to my mom in California. When all was said and done, I had no less than 25 pairs that I absolutely *couldn't* part with. I simply needed to take with me a pair of black flats, a pair of black heels, a pair of low black sandals, at least one pair of Havaianas flip-flops, a pair of gold strappy sandals, a pair of running shoes, a pair of casual sneakers, a pair of walking shoes, a pair of loafers, a pair of brown wooden platforms, a pair of snakeskin pumps, and a pair of brown boots in case it ever got cold.
Really, at that time all these shoes seemed essential. So much of my identity was caught up in my shoes and clothes, it felt like I had a special relationship with each item. My red suede flats with the camel leather flower on top reminded me of how much fun my mom and I had shopping for shoes in Walnut Creek. They reminded me of how many compliments I got at work the first day I wore them with a pair of jeans and a camel suede blazer. My knee-high, velvet-lined black leather boots reminded me of the trip to Italy I took 5 years ago to visit my grandmother, and how corageous I felt shopping for shoes alone in a foreign country. Just looking at those boots made me feel sexy, independent, powerful. I hated the idea of having to leave behind any of my beautiful clothes or shoes, for fear that I'd also leave behind some essential part of myself in the process. So in went all 25 pairs of shoes, and a whole lot of clothes as well. I could barely carry my suitcases by myself, but it all seemed worth it.
Now, one year into my stay here in Mozambique I still love my shoes and clothes as much as ever. Unfortuately, most of my shoes just sit in the back of my closet accumulating dust. I have no reason to wear fancy shoes or snakeskin pumps or cute boots. I work from home and don't have many occasions that require me to wear professional attire. I live on a tight budget in a new city with few friends, so I don't go out often and therefore don't have a reason to wear my stilletos or my super cute sandals that make the balls of my feet ache after only 20 mintues. Even when I do go out for a meeting or a coffee with someone, I have to walk and the sidewalks and roads in Mozambique are in such poor state that I am almost forced to wear flats, sneakers, or platforms in order not to break my ankle. Most days I just wear my Havaianas flip-flops and stare longingly at my closet full of beautiful shoes, slowly collecting dust.
What's more, my shoes and clothes now fill me with guilt. What does it say about me as a person that I have all of these things just heaped up in a closet and never use them? What must Dona Lídia, our maid, think when she comes to clean on Mondays and Thursdays and sees the piles of unused clothes and shoes I have? She and her 4 children wear third- or fourth-hand clothing and have 2 pairs of shoes each if they are lucky. Sometimes I think I would feel less Western guilt if I gave away all of my unessential posessions and just made do with a couple pairs of functional shoes and some basic articles of clothing. Back in the US my ridiculously large wardrobe made me proud. I was independent, spent my money on beautiful things, dressed well, and felt confident and pretty. Now, living in Mozambique, I still love my clothes and shoes - don't get me wrong. But now, in addition to beautiful and fashionable, they also make me feel very superficial in the face of the real issues I've witnessed here...
A note about Havaianas...
When I was 15 I moved to Brazil for a year-long student exchange and discovered Havaianas flip-flops. Yes, I was years and years ahead of my time. Nobody in the US even knew what Havaianas were, and they were certainly not being worn by celebrities or being sold for $60 a pair at botiques in LA. Along with 99.9% of the Brazilian population, I fell in love with Havaianas and promptly got myself a blue pair with Brazil's flag in miniature on the top of each sandal. My Havaianas became my all-purpose sandal. I wore them to go to school, to go shopping, with jeans and a cute top to go to the clubs at night, and even to go hiking!
Despite my love for Havaianas, I seem to be a bit cursed. My first pair I lost when the tide unexpectedly came in during a midnight swim on an island off the coast of Bahia state called Morro de São Paulo. They were the only shoes I'd brought for the week-long trip and I spent the following 4 days barefoot. My next pair of Havaianas was dark green. One of them got swept into a river in the Chapada Diamantina national park as I hopped from boulder to boulder to cross the water. This time I had other shoes available, but the remainder of the 3-hour hike after I'd lost my sandal was less than pleasant. My third pair of Havaianas was white with the Brazilian flag and got destroyed by a friend's dog. My fourth pair, red and black with the logo of the Flamengo soccer team, was stolen. Now I've learned my lesson and have multiple pairs of Havaianas - one in the Casa Rosa, one in San Francisco, and two in our flat here in Maputo.