Footwear Blues in Cuba

Yenisel Rodriguez

Shoes sold in hard currency. Photo: Caridad

Dressing in the latest fashion has ceased to be a problem for me, but I still remember how it tortured me as a teenager when I wasn’t able to at least sport a pair of shoes that were only a few months out of style.  Despite this, I never felt that the sky was going to fall down if I wasn’t a member of the trendy clique in school.

I also recall that in the mid ‘90s, my grandmother bought me a pair of Cobra tennis shoes.  The first day I wore them in school I got so many stares that I spent the whole day with red ears.

By the time I’d finished senior high school I had changed.  I ceased to place any importance on what I put on.  Still, this didn’t bring me any greater tranquility, since now I had to buy my clothes with my own money.  The most worrisome thing has been trying to get something to put on my feet.  With time, though, I was able to find options in the shoe market.

I discovered that handmade sandals could solve my problem.  I went for more than six years struggling to come up with $25 CUCs (US $30) every six months to buy a new pair.  Though sandals can last for about three years, what happens is that you wind up accumulating extra pairs over time; you find yourself with sandals for walking, sandals for work and sandals for just hanging out.

A pair of sandals don’t cost as much Adidas tennis shoes, and they even last longer.  They do cost more than a pair of pleather boat shoes though, but they’re more stylish.  Plus, since I studied social sciences, walking around in sandals gave me the air of an intellectual.  What more could I ask!

But it turned out that over time I began to get calluses.  The bottom of my feet and my right big toe were starting to get deformed.  I was back in the same quandary, or even worse, because by that time I had graduated and started living off of a ridiculous income.  Months passed without any new strategy for anything else other than sandals.

I had already resigned myself to buying some synthetic pleather boat shoes when I ran upon the perfect solution.  I discovered it while observing the archaeologists at my job.  Those bone diggers are characterized as dressing like cowboys, complete with the standard hat, jeans and a pair of boots.  Eureka! – “a pair of boots.”  I had my solution.

Now I go almost everywhere in my new boots.  They give me a touch of Steppenwolf, which attracts women and lends me the reputation of an organic anthropologist.  I’ve also become closer friends with the office archaeologists.

A pair of cheap boots costs about 10 CUCs on the black market.  Mine are protective boots, which means they have plastic guards.  This also means I benefited from the high price of metal on the international market, because I don’t know how I could have chased after a P-8 bus wearing lead cases on my feet.  Despite everything, I’m more than happy with my Tiger-brand protective boots.

You should have seen me the Havana International Trade Fair.  I stood there bedazzled in the booth with protection articles for workers.  There they had the best in boots, enough to make your mouth water.  One woman even tried to persuade her husband that the protection boots they had were better than a pair of Adidas sneakers.  I wasn’t so categorical until I showed her stubborn husband how well my boots stood up to the rain.  But he continued to resist, since after all… “they were workers’ shoes.”

When I was leaving the fair I saw a display with a giant cat wearing boots, which was there to promote different jams and jellies.  I didn’t identify with it, but in seeing the display I had a premonition: Perhaps I’d no longer have to improvise strategies to find shoes in the near future.

The pains in my shins caused by the polyethylene foot guards have made me forget the calluses and deformed toes caused by my leather sandals.

That’s the good news!

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.



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