These are the flip-flops I wore to work yesterday.
They look like a pretty straight-forward pair of flip-flops, right? Nothing horribly offensive or distasteful about their design or color?
Here’s how the day went….
Our office is business-casual, which means I usually wear simple black sandals, heels, or brown flats to the office. Bu I’d been suffering from a poorly placed blister on my foot, and flip-flops were the best thing to wear that day. I knew I was just going to be in the office, not meeting any terribly important people, so I figured I could allow my feet this little creature comfort for one day.
My feet and I happily went about my work, until lunch, when I walked outside to the porch to eat with other IJM Uganda staff.
Beatrice: “Krista… are you wearing slippers? [insert raised eyebrow, fork poised halfway to mouth in mid-air).
Me: “Um, well. Yeah, I guess so. My feet just hurt this morning, so I wanted to wear something comfortable.”
Beatrice: “Mmmm.” (A non-committal noise, very popular in Uganda when you don’t want to say exactly what you’re thinking).
Me: “Why, what’s the matter? I know they’re not business casual, but they’re okay, right?”
And that’s when the honest responses started rolling in:
Beatrice: “Well… you see, those are actually toilet slippers. Like slippers we only wear when we’re in the bathroom.”
Diana: “Yeah I actually can’t believe your boda-boda driver let you leave the house this morning with those on your feet.”
Florence: “Back in the days of Idi Amin, if you were caught with those slippers on outside of your house, he would make you EAT them.”
Eva: “But I guess it is okay. Because you are mzungu. People laugh at you, but it doesn’t matter.”
Oh dear. The only equivalent I can think of in American society would be something like wandering around the office all day with a dangling wad of toilet paper attached to the bottom of my shoe. Gross.
I’m usually pretty proud of my acute sense of cultural savvy, but there are just some days when you remember, even after a year of living somewhere, that you’re always going to be an awkward mzungu.