I’m a little late on commenting on this, but I’d like to highlight this first-person description of one woman’s “A Day without Shoes”. It felt to me like a compilation of nearly every misconception possible.
She didn’t even bother to go outside until 4:00 in the afternoon, because it was wet and rainy. Hey, bare feet are waterproof, unlike shoes!
My initial fear of rejection and hypothermia out of the way, I grabbed my jacket and headed for the bus. I needed to trek across town for my small group that met that evening, and the metro stop I wanted to catch was two and a half miles away.
I waited for the bus for about 20 minutes. People definitely noticed my feet but no one said anything. I’m no germaphobe, but taking a public bus and a public metro rail in your bare feet will quickly change that. Where everyone else had walked that day was suddenly something I felt a need to speculate about in great detail.
Well, yes, you are a germaphobe. Bare feet is covered with skin. You know, the skin that protects you from germs? There really is very little danger. You are more likely to catch a cold.
I was annoyed that my feet were cold and wet from the rain. I was becoming increasingly paranoid that someone wouldn’t look where they were going and step on my feet. Mostly I was angry with myself for thinking that life without a car was a good idea, financial and urban-transit prudence aside.
I arrived across town in one piece, both feet still intact. Along the way I was a bit surprised to discover that escalators hurt your feet more than sticks and stones, and the mental trepidation of fearing that a 250-pound man will step on your foot is much worse than when it actually happens.
Why would somebody step on your feet? Do you really think that, if they did, it would hurt any less with a thin sheet of leather? Of course not. You’re hyperventilating.
And she ends with:
How many kids are refused access to school or to a grocery store? How many kids end up with diseases that kill or seriously threaten their health, all because of a disease or fungus they picked up while navigating the streets in their bare feet?
Very few kids are refused access to school. Because almost no kids have shoes, they don’t make a big deal of it. They don’t obsess over it! And very few pick up diseases or fungus. Most diseases are due to poor sanitation, and that’s the problem that ought to be dealt with, because it causes such wide-ranging problems. And for fungi to grow, you need enclose feet in shoes to provide it the ideal warm, wet, dark environment it really prefers.
Her horrible day seems to have been mostly in her mind, imagining things that are not so.
I’d also like to discuss some of the comments to her account. A couple of other barefooters chimed in about how bare feet are not that big of a deal (no more than bareheadedness).
One set of comments say that folks are too hard on her because “she has a giving heart.” Yes, a giving heart is great, but when it goes chasing off after misinformation, it does no good. Yes, you can focus on the needs of other, but first make sure that those are real needs, not your imagined needs. And try to prioritize your efforts so that you really solve problems, and not succumb to try to prevent hangnails when people are chopping off their hands.
One other comment mentioned jiggers. This is a common name for the Chigoe Flea. This is definitely a disgusting pest that can cause real problems. They can get under toe nails and are really horrible to try to dig out. However, when a study was done, “Identifying risk factors for tungiasis and heavy infestation in a resource-poor community in northeast Brazil“, that study concluded that
Contrary to common belief, a protective effect of frequent use of closed footwear could not be demonstrated.
The most significant factors for being infected by the Chigoe Fleas were
- House built on dune or near swamp,
- House built of crude adobe,
- House built of palm stems/leaves,
- House with clay/sand floor,
- Defecation on compound, and
- Waste on compound.
Lack of shoes was way down the list. So, if you want to help these people, help them build decent houses in better locations!
But what you shouldn’t do is demonize bare feet and use that as an excuse for thinking you are doing something significant.