Last year my mother sent me a pair of sneakers. It was an amazing gift since my sneakers that I had brought were becoming run down, and were only being used when I traveled to Apia (and exercised….doesn’t always happen!). So for the past year I have worn those sneakers in, well past usual wear and tear. Still they were all in one piece and were helpful for running or doing any exercise in the village.
One of the nice things about having visitors, is they often leave their belongings with me before heading back to America. This means, I can collect un-moldy and unstained shirts and shorts, and best of all, sneakers. When my parents came to visit, my mother left behind her shoes. (They could not fit on her swollen ankles because of her fall. She is doing much better and has finally returned to work after over four months of rehabilitation and healing. Malo galue mom!)
I decided it was time to try out the shoes, and even though they are a little big on me, it is an amazing feel to be in shoes that are not worn down. That day I felt like I could run forever. (But the sun had to set, which meant sa, or curfew, was approaching so I had to be at home.)
The following day when I went out for my run, I noticed a few boys waiting on the main road for me. “Tatou o” they said and we rain through the village next to us. As we were running back, I decided I wanted to reward the boys for their appreciation for exercising and for being such good company to me. (Which is very important!!) Before we ran to the other village next to us, I asked the boy who had feet about the same size as me if he would like to run in sneakers instead of barefoot. He looked a little confused as I told them to wait as I ran to my house. I grabbed my older pair of sneakers and showed them to him. I did a quick lesson on tying shoes as he put them on, and went running.
Throughout our run to the neighboring village that boy had the biggest smile on his face. I only wish I had enough shoes to give all five boys that were running with me at the time. As we ran, they started singing the English song that I had taught them the previous week (UTube the video Swinging in the Alphabet with the 3 Stooges). They sounded like a small army marching around as they stomped through the village.
It was such an enjoyable time. 5 boys aged 6-10, most running barefoot singing and running as they are just enjoying life. These boys don’t normally run, and it was nice to see them exercising.
When we got to our village, the 7 year old boy that I had given the shoes off sat down quickly and tried to take off the shoes to return them to me. I explained that it was a mea alofa for doing such a great job running, so he can continue running. His face lit up with the biggest smile I had ever seen, as he repeatedly asked if I wanted them. He wanted to take me to the store to buy me something in return, but I refused as I was content without a snack.
He then ran over to the volleyball court to show off his new shoes to the entire village. While he was doing this, I had a constant stream of people coming up to me saying “ska se’vae”, meaning, “give me shoes”. I had to explain several times that I didn’t have any more shoes to give away, and I only gave it to the one boy because he was doing a fantastic job running.
While some kids were begging for shoes, others were coming up to me to find out if the boy had stolen my sport shoes.
The next day at school, the little boy came up to me and tried to give me money to buy a snack at lunch, and I told him not to worry.
Seeing the smile that he had because of a pair of old sneakers, was the greatest feeling of all. I had made this boy in an elite status. He was one of the handful of people that had sports shoes, and could now be a valuable asset in many games.
Before I leave, I will have another pair or two to give away, and it will be nice to see that amount of appreciation again.
(In the picture you can see how most students come to school barefoot, and play sports barefoot.)