As a young and adventurous village boy, I once did something foolish and lost badly. My naivety and sense of adventure cost me my precious worldly possession – a pair of marinas, or plastic shoes that were faked from Bata’s leather shoe line and cost the price of a goat.
No responsible father would barter a goat for leather shoes then; there were other important family issues waiting for money to sort out. So being shoe-less was the norm and marina a status symbol.
If you were lucky enough to own a pair, then you had plenty of what teenagers nowadays call a “killa swag” (from the words “killer” and “swagger”).
In them marinas, at night or at a distance, you would think poor me and my parents were actually clients of Bata or United, the only companies that then sold leather shoes. Other than being among the few proud to own them, marina was also a cut above the kinyera or as simply shoes made from old tyres.
The marina shoe had attributes the akala lacked – it burnt away the dirt and cracks in your heel and when you pulled out, they were as white as mzungu’s.
You did not fear the cleanliness inspection parade when you removed them because your foot would be literally bleached, the skin softened and tanned, and bad odour was not what prefects looked for.
Akala had three serious inadequacies to us. First the nails holding the straps to the base could loosen and hurt you while walking or running, unless you knew how walk without letting your thin legs knock each other.
If it so happens, the infection and pain from the wound down there had a way of giving you a swollen gland somewhere up between your legs where you would not, unless under threat of whipping, show your mum or dad.
Until you heal, with or without some traditional herbs or aspirins and some fashionable red and yellow capsules, the older boys would poke fun at you, claiming you had contracted VD, something that sounded like a good thing then, like PhD. Many years later, we learnt they meant we probably had a specific Venereal Disease even those toughies could not spell out – gonorrhea.
Secondly, teachers did not like the akala and chose a specific tree under the compound where you would leave them. But if you had Bata Bullets (rubber or canvass shoes!), and marina, you would be allowed to get into class with them, on condition you would not remove them because of something strange they called “pollution” then.
We learnt what the shoes held on occasions when one of us fainted and was being administered first aid. But as our teacher taught us, there are many things in us that are smelly but God made it possible for us to believe it is only smelly in others not you!
Why they did not allow akala, which leaves the foot well aerated in class still baffles me just like how we were each able to correctly pick our pair from hundreds under a tree. Maybe teachers felt akala were an insult to their own multi-patched shoes.