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strappy sandals and a cloud of Ghanaian dust

published: 2017-09-03

Another girl, this one is 11. It is her first day at a new school in a new country called Ghana. The container ship with all her things – books, games (books and toys she has rapidly grown out of as the move from London to Accra catapulted her into her teens), posters, that one piggy-bank she always takes with her, her records, diaries, sheets, her clothes, her shoes – is delayed. It hasn’t come. Perhaps it has even gone missing at sea.
Not to worry, at this school everyone wears a uniform and her mother has asked someone to sew one for her.
But. What about shoes?
She decides she is not going to wear her hard-nosed shoes, the stiff leather ones she wore in England. Her mother bought those for her because she has difficult feet. It is too hot for those heavy clunky shoes in the tropics. She notices her sister is not wearing her pink gym-shoes, the ones she envies her sister has. Her sister does not have difficult feet. She will be wearing strappy sandals to school. The skirt of their uniform is a lot shorter on her sister than it is on her, has she rolled it up in the waist?
The pink gym shoes are 3 sizes too big, and so the 11-year-old stuffs toilet paper into the empty toes. She is surprised at how much toilet paper she needs. Will anyone notice? Her parents don’t. Neither does her sister.
My memory fails me. It skips a few scenes. The girl is now at this new school and she is outside the classroom, her pink gym shoes on dusty red earthen African soil. She is aware that the shoes have an orange haze on them now, because of all the dust. Her sister will be very angry.
She is alone but she doesn’t dare look down which is her normal refuge when nervous. If she looks down, someone might notice how big her shoes are. What is she to look at instead? The other kids who are all trickling into school, none of whom she has ever met before? She looks up at the sky.
She tries to put her feet together but it doesn’t work. She looks like a clown. Uniform and floppy toes. Later that month she is asked who the hell she thinks she is. Just because she is the ambassador’s daughter it doesn’t mean she’s special, you know. The girl who fires this at her is tall and lanky, she is the best of both the Ghanaian and English world. She has a few isolated black freckles on her brown skin. Her hair has been braided around her ears like princess Lea. Today the 11-year-old is wearing her stiff English shoes. She quickly looks down, and in doing so catches strappy sandals in the act of turning on their heels and going off in a huff, followed by more pairs of sandals. They leave her behind in a cloud of Ghanaian dust.

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