If The Shoe Fits: A Border Report from Peg Bowden
If the Shoe Fits •April 14, 2012
by Peg Bowden for http://arroya.org
Some shoes are made for walking.
Several years ago I did the rim to rim hike across the Grand Canyon, a 26 mile hike from the North to South Rim taking four days. Each night our guide, who does this hike several times a year, would inspect our feet for reddened areas (hot spots) and blisters. The nightly ritual seemed bizarre at first, as I never paid much attention to my feet. But I gradually realized that if I couldn’t walk, I was in deep trouble. My feet were my life-giving instruments that were going to get me out of this canyon. If there were hot spots appearing on our feet (and all eight of us experienced this at some point) we applied antibiotic ointment and duct tape. Yes, duct tape. The stuff that keeps the universe from unraveling. Duct tape stays on in the desert heat. Mole skin and every other kind of adhesive tape is useless. It slides right off.
lining up at the comedor
And so it is that I remember this bit of Grand Canyon wisdom when I look at the migrants at el comedor limping into the shelter this morning. Many wear shoes that are torn and rotting. Some are in flip-flops. One woman is in her stocking feet. She tells me her shoes were taken from her in a detention center. Toes stick out of torn canvas. Shoe soles are separated from leather. I see blood and dirt on socks.
After days in the desert or weeks traveling on foot from Central America to this border city, most of the people need shoes. The Samaritans have written a grant to a charitable organization in Alabama called Soles4Souls. Their mission is simple: to collect new shoes for “victims of abject suffering.” This week our group arrived at el comedor with over one hundred pairs of new shoes plus boxes of new socks. It was a joyous day. We had every size and style, and the smell of new leather filled the air.
Looking across the room today at the group of travelers, it occurs to me that many have not ventured more than ten miles from their villages during the course of their life. But economic hard times have driven them to el norte into Nogales, Sonora, a city they have never heard of. After spending days in a detention center, some were deported at 3 AM this morning. They look tired, with vacant eyes and worn clothes hanging on their thin bodies.
But trying on these shoes changes things. I see a couple of high fives. One fellow tells me these are the best shoes he has ever worn. He walked in wearing rubber thongs over dusty socks. He will walk out with workmen’s boots. I see him carefully put the new shoe tags into his jeans.
Comfort for the feet
A little boy cannot decide if he wants to try on shoes or play with the resident cat. The men look over the shoes and boots carefully and the benches are lined with people trying on the footwear. I tell them to make sure the shoes fit. No more blisters, OK?
A woman who is from a village in Oaxaca hangs on the sidelines. She speaks no Spanish or English, and instead communicates in an indigenous language from her region that no one at the shelter understands. She is wearing a lovely skirt and patent leather maryjanes on her feet. She picks up a hand-knit blanket and hugs it to herself and watches the group trying on the shoes. Her hair hangs below her waist, and she rocks back and forth with her blanket.
the woman and the knitted blanket
Being here is always a mixed bag. I feel like perhaps our Samaritan group has done a good thing today. We have given the gift of decent shoes to people in desperate need. And then there are others that our good intentions cannot impact. All I can do is sit with this peasant woman with her blanket.
And pat her arm.
I try to imagine what it would be like to be one thousand miles from home with no money, no resources, and unable to communicate with anyone around me. How did this woman get here? What was she thinking? What now?
Compassion comes in many forms. Today it is a pat on the arm and a colorful blanket.
And boxes of boots that are made for walkin’.
For more information about the Samaritans, we have a great website. Address is: www.gvsamaritans.org Check it out for ideas about how you can help.Pin It