WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES | FEAT. HENNING MANKELL


… a story about dignity.

During the long and difficult civil war that ravaged Mozambique - from the early 1980s until 1992 - I made a journey to the Cabo Delgado province in the north. One day in November 1990, I was in a place just south of the border with Tanzania. The area had been badly affected by the war. Many people had been killed or crippled, and starvation was widespread since most of the crops had been burnt. It was like entering an Inferno where misery rose like smoke all along the dusty roads.

One day I took a path that led to a tiny village. A young man came walking towards me. It seemed as if he was walking out of the sun. His clothes were in tatters. He could have been nineteen, maybe twenty. When he came closer, I noticed his feet.



Trompe l'oeil paintings by John Maurad and Jenai Chin
Photograph: Tom Schierlitz
Source: New York magazine


I saw something I shall never forget as long as I live. I can see it before my very eyes as I am telling this tale now. Rarely does a day pass when I don't think about this boy who was coming towards me as if from out of the sun. What did I see? 

His feet. He had painted shoes on to his feet. He had mixed paint from the soil and preserved his dignity for as long as possible. He had no boots, no shoes, nothing, not even a pair of sandals made from the remains of a car tyre. As he had no shoes, he had to make some himself, so he painted a pair of shoes on to his feet, and in doing so he boosted his awareness that, despite all his misery and destitution, he was a human being with dignity.



Trompe l'oeil paintings by John Maurad and Jenai Chin
Photograph: Tom Schierlitz
Source: New York magazine


I thought at the time and I still think now that of all the strangers I have met in my life, this meeting may have been the most important of all. For what he told me with his feet was that human dignity can be preserved and maintained when all else seems lost. I learned that we should all be aware that there could come a day when we too will have to paint shoes on to our feet. 

And when that day comes, it is important that we know that we possess that ability. I don't know what his name was. He couldn't speak Portuguese and I didn't understand his language. I have often wondered what became of him. He is most probably dead, though I have no way of knowing for sure. But the image of his feet will always be with me.

Henning Mankell
From: I Die But The Memory Lives On (The Harvill Press, 2004)



Henning Mankell (1948 - 2015)
I Die But The Memory Lives On (The Harvill Press, 2004)
Source: HENNING MANKELL 


 

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