Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Shoes, New Country

Old huaraches
So there I was wandering around in the shopping district in La Paz, BCS, many years ago, wearing a pair of air-conditioned sneakers— which should have been given a decent burial long before— when I spotted a shoe store with a sale on huaraches. Eureka! Sale and huaraches, two of my favorite words! Ten minutes later I walked out wearing my new sandals, and I tossed my old sneakers in the trash on my way out the door.

I had forgotten the part about breaking huaraches in. Oops.

Within three blocks I was wishing I hadn't thrown my sneakers away. At another three blocks I had to stop at a farmacia for Band-Aids. Another three . . . I was barefoot and hailing a taxi. My feet felt like they had died and gone straight to hell, without passing "Go." I cursed my decision and called myself names for succumbing to the word "Sale." This was buyer's remorse writ large.

Over the next several days many friends commiserated with me on the state of my feet and my sandals. I was given much advice on how to make those stiff leather straps more supple and comfortable and I followed all of it. I oiled them. I soaked them. I soaked AND oiled them. None of it worked. I thought maybe if I just wore them around the house for a few days my feet would get used to them and all would be well.

Ha! My feet started screaming as soon as I pointed them towards those huaraches; I couldn't wear them for longer than half an hour even if I was sitting down. My toes were blistered, the straps cut into my instep, it was impossible. So I exiled them to the back of the closet in a fit of pique.

But ever a glutton for punishment, a couple of weeks later I dragged them out from their place of shame and cautiously put them on again. Well, I can't explain it, but they not only fit perfectly, they no longer hurt my feet at all, even though the straps were not yet supple and soft. Those quickly became my favorite shoes ever, and I wore them for the better part of two decades before I finally had to throw them out. The odd thing is that when I bought a new pair I had no problem at all breaking them in.

Breaking in a new country can be like breaking in a new pair of huaraches. Living in a foreign country is a lot different from visiting there. Things that you found charming or cute while on vacation can drive you to distraction once you live there full time. It can be a painful experience.

My suggestion: Spend a little time there first; break it in a bit, make sure that the things you love about it are not overwhelmed by things you just can't live with. Given a little time (and a little oiling?), you just might find that it's a perfect fit after all.

-La Huerita

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