Someone once told me that a person’s story could be told by the soles of her shoes. She said that the shoes’ movements, trails, rhythms, and placements could converge to reflect a unique tale. Although the narrative of my past eight months often feels as multifaceted as the collection of sand and dirt particles perpetually glued to the undersides of my fingernails, I thought I’d give it a try.
My shoes have memorized the cracked cement streets and gravel pathways of Dakar, the rocky dirt routes, mountains, and waterfalls of the Kedougou region, the sacred, marabou blessed sands of Touba, the mangroves located deep within the southern Sereer country.
My shoes have stood witness to twelve live births, three deaths, four marriages, and countless baptisms. My shoes have stood their ground in front of a class of 100 rowdy middle school students, in front of intense marriage suitors, in front of those who tested both personal and material boundaries.
My shoes have joined 400 villagers in rapid rhythms of uninhibited dance, not stopping until they created a sand storm illuminated only by the stars and moon. My shoes have joined the routines of the Ka, Camara, and Faye families- letting the family’s routines etch routines and pathways under the intense sun rays.
There have been days where my shoes remained in the corner of my bedroom, untouched as I spent the day lazily reading, chasing away lizards, and laughing with my siblings. Yet there have been days when the shoes took their departure before the sunrise call to prayer, returning well after dark, enthralled in a mission of some sorts.
My shoes have moved aimlessly amongst the Tabaski holiday shuffle, purposefully in conjunction with national medical procedure, passionately in front of students, comfortably between friends’ homes for tea, and wistfully onto Delta’s flight 217 nonstop Dakar to New York.
My shoes have collected clumps of white rice, drops of peanut sauce, leaves of the niebedaye tree, patches of sugary tea, trickles of bissap juice, and goops of fish intestines.
My shoes have slid off to join hundreds of thousands of Muslims for the Magal pilgrimage, navigating the cool marble tiles of Touba’s grand mosque, barefoot and in unison.
My shoes have climbed mountains, quite literally, but more importantly metaphorically. My shoes have tripped, fallen, and broken, quite literally, but more importantly metaphorically. My shoes saw pure happiness, pure sadness, the best of human interaction, the most disappointing.
These were the traces of the soles of my shoes on a small sliver of the earth.