Ghana and the story of the shoespublished: 2010-11-29
We arrived well ahead of our clothes.
I remember the dark, deserted streets, the non-paved sidewalks, a moon over shrublike trees, white plastic bags in their branches. There were only men in military uniform out there, at road blocks, holding machine guns. They didn’t raise their guns at our car, but they watched closely, hesitantly. Diplomatic plates. A Dutch flag on the hood of the car. Headlights flashing. Despite curfew, they were not to stop us. Through gates, past heavy doors into a cubist style house that had been sealed off and smelled musty from airconditioning.
Welcome to Ghana.
The next morning, we turned off the airconditioning system and opened all the doors. We started shifting furniture around. This was to bcome our home, we may as well get started. But news came that the ship carrying our things had not left the harbors of Rotterdam. We had to make do with the few items of clothing and memorabilia we had taken with us in suitcases. For how long? We wouldn’t know. This was Accra, 1983. There had just been a military coup. Shops were non-existent, the economy had slumped to an all-time low.
Thank god for uniforms. The uniform to our school was green and white striped. But what shoes was I to wear? This worried me for days. I had only one pair of heavy, black leather shoes with laces. I decided to wear my sister’s pink sneakers instead. They were kind of cool. Except they were four sizes too big and so I stuffed toilet-paper in the nose of them. The shoes made me feel so uncomfortable that I hardly dared walk around, let alone chat with people. I preferred staying put, behind my desk. There was gym om the first day at school. The thinking being: through play and sports kids will relax and get to know eachother. But how could I run on shoes that were as large as a clown’s? I pretended to feel sick.
After school, I’d often sit with my mother on the veranda. She’d be reading or painting something and listening to music. We had only one tape: America. We played it over and over again. Oz never did give nothing to the tinman, that he didn’t already have.
I slept in my sister’s room because I was afraid of evil spirits. But that was no good either. She might suddenly sit up and become that girl from The Exorcist who turns her head around and around. Staying awake seemed the only logical option. And so I came to experience a lot of African sunrises in those first few weeks. One day, a blanket of moths had collected on the windows making me think an apocalyptic darkness had entered our lives. During that season there were also a lot of frogs. I found a few of them in my desk. Once even in my pencil case.
Our things came three months later. It had taken three months. My feet had grown. None of my shoes fit, not that they were sandals anyhow, let alone with little heels. My mother asked what was wrong with me. Wasn’t I happy my bed and desk had come? I said, “everyone at school wears strappy sandals.” I hoped she wouldn’t say I shouldn’t want to be like everyone else, or that I was only 11, or how important good shoes were for my difficult feet. She didn’t. We happened to be going to Lomé that weekend, and bought strappy sandals. Finally, I was ready to make friends.