My feet don’t like shoes

I was born at the end of a rainbow.

Okay, not exactly. As far as I know, there were no leprechauns or pots of gold present for my birth. But Palau is called – in affectionate marketing terms – The Rainbow’s End. Google one image and you’ll see why.

I have my free spirit chef parents to thank for my unconventional childhood, growing up in tropical places most people had never heard of – Palau and Yap for my first 13 years – and experiencing an alternative to the “normal” our extended Canadian family lived, the “normal” many might say I missed out on.

My “normal” has been a series of contrasts and odd juxtapositions by virtue of the countries in which I grew up. I didn’t see snow till I was 17, but I’d already lived through a couple of typhoons. I didn’t know how to use a subway token when I left home for college, but I’d already traveled on an airplane alone. I grew up without cable TV, McDonald’s, or shopping malls, and instead had books, homecooked meals, and Amazon orders. I could barely say my name in French – I know, what a bad Canadian – but could understand my classmates speaking Palauan and would sing along to their country’s national anthem. Toys didn’t last long in my “normal” – the metal ones always rusted in the humidity and the plastic ones always went brittle in the heat; the film inside VHS tapes always went mouldy eventually. On rare vacations back to the motherland – my mother’s land – I would marvel at my aunt and uncle’s crawlspace in British Columbia, because basements didn’t exist in my world, and I longed to have an attic bedroom, because what could be cooler than that? I never liked fresh milk ’cause I grew up with UHT, and I could never quite process how people in Canada could leave candy on a cupboard shelf, instead of in the fridge, and somehow it would never melt or be swarmed by ants.

And shoes. I didn’t grow up wearing a lot of shoes. Barefoot was my default, and flip-flops my go-to shoe, when shoes were required; real shoes were an inconvenience. And socks? Forget it. They just meant an instant, sweltering heat that made your skin crawl with itchy tightness. No, socks and closed-toe shoes were reserved for the dreaded days when the school said they were a must, or the not-at-all-dreaded days when travel was going to happen, because airports + airplanes = socks and shoes.

Sarah Munn_Yap_1997.jpg
My Kindergarten graduation in Yap, at about age 6 – flip-flops in all their easy, breezy glory.

Now, flip-flops, flip-flops were where it was at! You had your everyday flip-flops, usually a solid colour like red or green, for school, and a fancier pair, maybe with rafia or beads that Mum probably ordered from Newport News, for going out, and then as a backup, a stiff pair in a garish neon or stripe that you never liked but Mum kept around just in case the rubber strap on your everyday pair busted.

To this day, my feet don’t like shoes. They fight to fit into them and are almost never comfortable when they do. They scream for air to breathe and beg for room to stretch. They stick out their little toes to protest being confined, and when they really want to battle, they have a brigade of sweat, odour, calluses, and blisters standing ready at the front lines. On particularly angry days, they’ll bring out the big guns – ingrown toenails.

My feet never let me forget this cold country isn’t where they were born, but my soul overrides their desire to run back to the sand. So we compromise on the shoes and wear them only when necessary, stripping off all traces as soon as we can. I’ve journeyed from sand to snow and back again, and now I’m doing it once more. Snow is going to be my home, but there will always be sand between my toes.