“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.“ ~ Khalil Gibran
Wednesday, April 25: Did you know that in early centuries it was considered sinful for Christian women to go barefoot in public?
Also, among the Czechs and Volga Turks of the 17th century, and for centuries in China, women retired for the night in slippers because it was considered vulgar to expose their feet in bed?
In Puritan New England a nagging wife was required to wear tight shoes as punishment. And an old Judaic law called for a husband to punish his wife by forbidding her to wear shoes. This in essence imprisoned her because it was considered indecent for her to expose her feet in public.
In Morocco, if a woman wore yellow shoes, she was considered indecent and forced to go barefoot for a year.
All these little tidbits about foot folklore I found in an article entitled Foot Folklore from a June 26, 1989 article in The News and Courier. Sadly, though I searched, I couldn’t find any foot folklore related to Oman. 🙂
Before I came to Oman, I was told that Omanis wear sandals year-round, so when I packed, I tossed in several pairs of my favorite flat sandals, thinking they would hold me for a year. Soon, though, I found that my sandals were taking a beating as I walked back and forth across the dusty university campus in the heat and sun. Dirty asphalt parking lots & expansive spaces of gravel were making my soles pockmarked and thin. Soon, the practically new shoes I had brought were looking worn and ragged.
I visited the shoe store, Al Khamis Shoes, near my villa in Firq, where I found some pretty sturdy looking sandals for both men and women. Soon I found myself checking out the shoes that both Omani women and men wore. I found the men wear these hefty sandals with open backs and big straps across the foot. They don’t really wear anything resembling flip-flops or our Americanized men’s hiking sandals.
I bought a pair of brown sturdy Omani sandals at Al Khamis Shoes to replace the shoes I owned that were falling apart. But when I wore them I felt they were dragging me down, as if they were anchors on my feet. I was like an ancient Manchurian newlywed, who, according to folklore, was required to wear iron shoes the first six months of marriage to keep her close to home. I went on a quest to Muscat where I found shoe stores in a modern-day mall that sold some cute, more delicate styles; I bought several pairs of flat sandals, which should carry my feet over more desert miles in Oman.
One day one of my colleagues was invigilating for an exam, which is excruciatingly boring because you’re not supposed to do anything else but walk around and keep an eye on the students; while doing this, he noticed an Omani student’s feet. He did a double-take. They were like nothing he’d ever seen before. He couldn’t stop staring at these feet because they were so wide and spread out. And I guess it was more interesting to look at those feet than to stare vacantly into space during that invigilation.
I have noticed plenty of Omani men’s feet and they do seem particularly large. I began to wonder if this was because of wearing sandals year round, day in and day out, every day of their lives. This really came to the forefront of my mind when my own feet, which haven’t seemed to change in the last 35 years, started taking on a strange new shape.
I have always had feet in the shape of what are sometimes called “Greek” feet, where the second toe is longer than the big toe. Over my life, people have made fun of me because of my second toe being so much longer than my big toe; this is especially noticeable on my left foot.
Since I arrived here in September, I have been wearing sandals continuously. Just like the Omanis. Frankly, it’s too hot to consider wearing close-toed shoes. In January, I started trying to walk 4km at least 5 days a week, so I put on the walking shoes that I brought from the U.S., shoes that have fit me perfectly well over the last couple of years. As I walked, especially downhill, I felt my toes chafing against the inside of my shoes. Especially my left toe. When I checked this out after my walks, I found that my left second toe had a blister on the end. That toe, which never before had hit the inside of my walking shoe, was now jamming up against the inside when I walked. I believe, since I started wearing sandals nonstop, my feet are lengthening and widening. And YIKES, that toe, the toe of all toes that has always been just a wee bit too long to begin with, is growing into a longer and scarier version of itself!
Maybe I shouldn’t complain. In Voice at the university this week, a female Omani student assured me that she heard that if someone has a longer second toe than the big toe, that means in marriage that person will dominate. Of course she didn’t mention what would happen if both people have a longer second toe; I can only guess it will be a fight to the finish over who will be in charge. Maybe, just maybe, I can take some consolation in the fact I will never be the underdog in any relationship. For sure… 🙂
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau