Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stupid Hippie Shoes

I have a problem.

I don't mean a problem like the kind that pops up urgently and can only be solved by immediate application of skill, planning, and martial arts. I mean like a "problem" problem. The kind that cuts into your daily life, preys on your savings account, and instigates the slow alienation of all of your friends. It raises concern among your loved ones; "Ashley, why are you buying that fabulous pair of heels when you are moving to Africa for two years?" They mean well, I know, but I already realize the depths of my troubles. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery, I hear, so I'll say it again: I am obsessed with shoes.

My problem has actually led me to have a problem, this time the urgent issue kind. This particular problem stems from the fact that I can't possibly, in good conscience, spend money on a pair of drab, unimaginative mules. But let me back up for just a minute and explain so you can get the full scope of my problem(s). I love heels. The really cute, really high, really impractical, totally full-of-sass heels. I believe in good sue me. This is my Problem. The problem that my Problem has left me with is this: I need a pair of dress shoes for Zambia. All of my dress shoes are no shorter than 3" high, and totally inappropriate for bicycling around the African bush. But I still need a pair of professional dressy shoes. My heart says heels. My mind says mules. I cringe deep down.

This conundrum is what prompted the two-day long Footwear Research and Acquisition Binge that my poor laptop has recently been subjected to. I have good, sturdy work-the-land shoes which will last me, for all practical purposes, until Armageddon. After all, I live on a farm. However, I realized that in order to be sufficiently shod for all of my African adventures, I would need nice shoes, but not heels, and hard-core sandals (I suspect that my standard $7.99 flip-flops are sooooo not up to the task of my future safari-style living). Staring at my computer screen filled with shoes until my eyes bleed, I realize that my Problem is worse than I realized when I found myself Ebay-watching two pairs of Kate Spades, a gorgeous pair of retro Pradas and the most perfect ruby red Louboutin Rolandos...FAIL.

I decided in order to satisfy my Problem and solve my problem, I would compromise. Unflashy, boring, 1.5" heeled, black, all-purpose dress shoes...but they're used Salvatore Ferragamos. $300 shoes that I found for $37.00. I could feel a hint of a smile returning to my feet. Italian- made would definitely last long against the rigors of Zambian hut-life, but I could still slip them on my feet and feel smashing. Well, maybe not smashing, per se, but at least a darn sight better than how I would feel in generic Payless ballet flats. AND, they're definitely worn, so I won't feel so bad when I scuff the toe on my bicycle. Item one, check.

I figured while I was at this, I might as well focus on my second shoe situation: the need for a sturdy pair of work-the-land-last-til-Armageddon sandals. Ripping myself away from the Givenchy Fall '09 collection, I began my research on what might best suit my purposes. Upon delving into the depths of Birkenstock foot wear, I ran into another roadblock. My Problem, you know, that Problem, was writhing in demonic agony as if the specimens in front of it were a collection of crucifixes, like Balthazaar confronted with Holy Water. The words thundered in my skull like a malediction: Hippie shoes, hippie shoes, hippie shoooooooooes.

Not that there's anything wrong with hippies. In fact, I consider myself a neo-hippie (although I do bathe and plan on shaving my legs in my open-air, thatch-roofed bath hut, even if I have to use my new leatherman Crocodile Dundee-style). I even had a pair of Baby Birks when I was a wee tot, and they were quite comfy (incidently, my concern with good footwear comes from my mother). No, the issue was, as much as I have respect for hippies and the traditional foot garb of the hippie, my Problem abhorrs the hippie vibe. Boho? Totally cool. Funky retro? Also awesome. Straight-up, socially awkward, fashion-ignorant, BO-scented, Save-The-Spotted-Porpoises hippie? Not so swell. I was in middle school once, and I have no desire to return there in my twenties, Peace Corps stereo-type or not. Another compromise was in order.

My second dillemma was proving to be more difficult than the first. I read coustomer reviews, examined colors and tech specs, did price comparisons. Deep down, I knew that I needed a sandal that could stand up to the rough-life, not just "feel comfortable all day as I walked around Europe on our two week vacation." Two years in rural Zambia will take a toll on these buggers, and I need to be on my feet hauling water, gathering wood, building cooking fires and walking to the market. Despite my Problem, I'm a realist. And yet, I just couldn't bring myself to go the whole hog and buy the hardest of the hard-core sandals. I'm still at a stand-off with my Problem. I ordered a pair of Tevas, not the amphibious, trek-across-the-Sahara style, but the grade below it, which is still above the Oh-I-could-totally-get-used-to-these cute style. I read the return policy, and am prepared to continue my search should they arrive and my Problem doesn't feel like we could live and work in harmony...or if they don't fit. At this point, I know which option worries me more.

In other news, this has been, thus far the biggest challenge in my preparations. Christmas was a success, full of used and sustainable goodness, and I am one retro messenger bag, Solio charger, Zambia guide book and several journals more prepared for my departure. Can't wait to ring in the new year. I have a feeling 2010 is going to be more awesome than I can possibly imagine!



  1. Hello,

    I don't know you, but even though I am totally a save-the-spotted-porpoise hippie/feminist... I thought I would tell you that I adore your blog.

    I hope to stumble across it again some day! :)

  2. LOL!! Ridiculously amazing post! I settled for Birkenstocks, myself.

    I imagine we will meet during training in Lusaka!

    Tsalani/mutsale bwino (stay well in Nyanja),

  3. Wow! Thanks guys! I now know how Julie Powell felt when she found out she had readers, lol. Don't know how often it will be, but I certainly hope to keep updating this blog in country...


  4. StrideRites and Baby Birks...A lifetime of footwear overindulgence has created a monster...and I thought I was a mother that didn't spoil my daughters!

  5. Julie Powell as in from Julie and Julia? If so, I heart that movie!!! We can definitely be friends now, haha. (Besides, I don't follow sports so I'm not attached to my Husky identity).

    As for there being support for me within the PC itself, I completely agree with you!

    See you in February! And hit me up for coffee if you happen to find yourself up north here in Seattle. I see you're from Camas; I had two environmental science course field trips to Wind River north of Stevenson. What a beautiful area!


  6. I can't help but laugh while reading this post dear Cousin. I understand your Problem compellingly. Frankly, I think it comes from being a little person with little feet. We tend to look fabulous in heels.=D Nevertheless, I hope that your are well shod by now as I see that your departure date is fast approaching. I am going to miss you like mad.