Shoeless and stubborn

Those of you who know me well, will know that I detest shopping.

By shopping I mean buying ‘stuff’, not food. Food I love to buy. But I have to be in great need of clothes/shoes/bag/whatever, to be motivated to even attempt a shopping expedition. When I was in Australia, normally I would only end up in the dreaded shopping centre when my mother, my sister – or yes, embarrassingly a few times my husband – would drag me there because they were sick of me complaining endlessly about a certain thing I ‘needed’.

I still sit and ponder sometimes how women seem to be so good at it. And they actually really enjoy it. Many would actually choose to go shopping of their own free will. Some would even consider it a hobby. A relaxation activity.

Not me. I cannot think of anything more stressful. The salespeople, the expectation of having to come home with ‘stuff’, the time it takes, having to make decisions, the inevitable guilt associated with the purchase, the whole idea of fashion that I somehow have to manoeuvre…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like living simply, but my hatred of shopping is not really about my refusal to accumulate too much ‘stuff’. It’s much less selfless. I am normal, I like having pretty things; I just don’t like process of acquiring them.

Then I moved to Uganda.

The first few times I shopped in Uganda – in the past when I have lived here for shorter periods – I really enjoyed it. It was fun. It made me happy. I smiled and laughed. It was a good way to bond with Ugandan friends.  The clothes/shoes markets here offer a quintessential ‘African’ experience; colours and fabrics and clothes of every make and design, hundreds of stalls lined with endless piles of second hand clothing to sort through, sure opportunities to practice bargaining and language learning…

Now I’ve changed my mind. There are no more smiles. Let’s take shoe shopping for example, my least favourite of all shopping-related activities.

In Kampala (the capital of Uganda) there are basically 3 options for shoe shopping.

1. The classy establishments in the big shopping malls scattered around Kampala. This is where the beautiful people of Uganda shop, for equally beautiful shoes. For an up-country Kamwenge girl like myself, this is very daunting these days – walking into such shops I feel a little like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she attempts shopping on Rodeo Drive. The primary hurdle at these places is the cost – shoes range upwards from about 250,000 ($100). Considering I would never in my lifetime pay that much for shoes, as well as the fact that I don’t want to spend my entire salary on footwear (!!) this option is a no go.

2. Then there is Bata. The international chain shoe store that has locations across the country. Bata is always an option, and if I need to, I can always count on them. All prices, which are normally fair, are labelled so there is no bargaining (I’ve tried!). The issue with Bata is that they have the same range for about 6 months, and if you don’t like the options (which I don’t at the moment) it’s a lost cause. Given my fussiness with shoes/clothes – a frustrating quality of mine my husband will tell you – I often fail to find what I am looking for at Bata.

3. Which leads me to my last option: the classic Ugandan shoe shop, located anywhere and in anything – often a converted shipping container, squeezed between other clothes shops or market stalls, or at the side of the road on roughly made wooden shoe racks. Regardless, the shoes will have one thing in common – they are imported, second hand.

Now, I am not a ‘second hand’ snob. In Australia I often buy pre-loved stuff. No issues there. But I have quickly realised, especially with shoes, that there is one grand dilemma buying shoes from such places: Each pair of shoes will only come in one size.

So I walk into (or up to if it’s outside) a shoe shop. Let’s say there are 100 pairs of shoes. Due to that fact that I am looking for a specific type of shoe, I will probably only be interested in 10 of the 100. Then because they are second hand, there is the obvious issue of quality. That narrows it down to about 8 pairs. In Kamwenge and with my work in the village, I do quite a bit of walking, so any shoes have to be practical – so let’s cut that number in half, with 4 pairs of shoes remaining to choose from…

This is before I have tried any on. After a cursory look, I realise 2 aren’t anywhere near my size. They are out. One pair I really like – but alas after trying them on, they are just a little too small. I utter a sad goodbye to them also. So I am left with one pair. They aren’t amazing, but I am excited because they actually fit me. They are my only option. However, the girl in the shop knows I want them. She knows they are my only option. She has seen the other shoes fail. She also sees my shiny white skin and realises her luck is changing. All of a sudden the cost is high. You wouldn’t believe the quality of these shoes, she tells me. The best pair she has. They will cost 50,000 ($20) – much more than what they are worth.

Then comes the biggest problem. My husband and I have unique qualities we bring to the relationship when it comes to bargaining. Michael is a ‘Findlay’ through and through – he will make every last cent count, and won’t pay an ounce more than the value. Myself? I bring a stubbornness and pride to the relationship that forces me to accept only Ugandan prices when I buy things. No Muzungu prices for me. In combination, most of the time, it makes us a killer bargaining team at a Ugandan market. It can also make us very ineffective at buying items like shoes. Because those qualities also dictate that we walk away from the one pair of promising shoes that actually fit me because the shoe lady wants us to pay double what they are worth.

So once again, I leave shoeless with my pride in tact…

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