I’ve been in Zambia for two weeks now, halfway done a month long course at the Africa Peacebuilding Institute (API, for all those who love acronyms). We are in classes for six hours a day, off at four o’clock, which gives us lots of time to hang out, go into town and shop, or just explore the surrounding area. it was while engaged in the last activity that the following story happened.
I am here with Samuel, a Sudanese friend of ours who works for a trauma healing organization (as well as conducting informal mediation services on the side). One day Samuel and i went for a walk down the driveway of the Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation (where API is held) and out onto the main road. As we were walking, Samuel noticed that the sole of one of his shoes is starting to separate from the upper. We kept walking and Samuel spotted a ramshackle storefront (i use the term storefront loosely here) with a pile of shoes beside a tub of lollipops on what was supposedly the display table.
“Maybe he can fix my shoe,” he said, referring to one of the two men sitting on the slanting ground behind the store. I was incredibly skeptical; there was nothing, other than the pile of dirty used shoes, that connected this place with shoe repair. After all, the shoes on display didn’t even seem wearable.
We approached the two men and inquired about the possibility of shoe repair. “Yes, i can fix your shoe. 2000 Kwacha.” (this amount is roughly equivalent to about fifty cents Canadian.) Samuel took of his shoe and the man, David, got to work.
From a pile of what seemed to be trash he pulled a piece of sturdy thread and a tool that looked not dissimilar to a crochet hook. I moved closer and asked if i could watch. “Sure,” the man says, “but your people are the ones who taught us to use these tools. You don’t know how to use them?” he asks in disbelief.
I explain that shoe repair is not so common in North America anymore. When our shoes break, we generally just throw them out. “It’s very terrible,” i say, trying to make some kind of corporate amends on my culture’s behalf.
He patiently guides the thread in and out and around the toe of Samuel’s shoe. He shows me how he does it. He seems very amused by my curiosity.
When he is finished the shoe looks great. I learn later from another person that people will often take new shoes, which often have their soles simply glued on, to these shoe repair people to have the soles sewn on to make them last longer.
The part of this experience was not that shoe repair places exist, or even that they exist in Africa. What amazed me was that this shoe repair shop existed where it did: a beat-up little shelter that held nothing more than a pile of thread, which seemed to have been recycled from other shoes, and a crochet hook as far as materials went.
That was all that was needed.
p.s. i’ve been trying for a few days to get a picture of the cobbler into this post, but the slow internet in zambia is intent on preventing both in-post pictures as well as a hyperlink to our picasa albums, where i’ve put the picture. copy & paste this link to view David the cobbler:
when i’m in nairobi, i’ll try to get a picture or hyperlink in here somehow.