The Things my Shoes have Seen

I found myself speed walking to gate number C6 at Cape Town International airport. With way too many bags strapped over my shoulders, I shuffled towards the stairs going to the desired gate. From nowhere a friendly face stopped me and drew my attention to my shoes, this literally stopped me in my tracks.

Before I knew it I was persuaded to sit down for a proper shoe polish by a man called Moses. My size 9 Sapmok vellies work hard judging from the exterior and that is exactly why Moses stopped me. “I like a challenge; “your shoes need some love” were his words to me and it made me think of a special moment I had with Norman Chauke in Pridelands when I just started my internship.

The importance of clean shoes

Last year in June I was getting some footage of Norman polishing his shoes after tracking some animals. That morning was very dusty as we were in mid-winter, he asked me

“ do you know why clean shoes are important?”. “It shows you are taking care of yourself and that you value your profession”.

My immediate thought was, when last did I polish my shoes? You can guess who suddenly started polishing their shoes the next day.

The Things my Shoes have Seen
Photographs © Christoff Els

I thought about this and the profession Norman and I find ourselves in. We rely on our shoes to take us to work, to protect our feet, and most important of all our shoes tell our story. When Moses untied my shoelaces, he untied a conversation I never thought I would have while on my way to catch a flight. He asked,

“Where do your shoes take you?” to which I replied, “They take me everywhere as you can see, but they spend most of their time in the African bush”.

Stepping into the story

Looking down at Moses working his magic with shoe polish in one hand and brush in the other, a smile shining through his face mask emerged. As the conversation progressed, he told me that today is his first day back at work since lockdown started in 2020. I felt honored thinking I’m possibly his first customer for the day or even this year! Looking at his own shoes it is clear that he values his work and is proud of his craft. And with good reason as I have never seen my Sapmoks shine like that day. He told me about his family in the Eastern Cape and how thankful he is for this job.

The Things my Shoes have Seen
Photographs © Christoff Els

I told him about my profession and how I value what I do, even though my shoes do not stay clean for long. To which he said that I should remember him when I’m out there in the bush and look down at my shining Sapmoks. This made me smile, I’m sure he saw it in my eyes too. This was a deep moment and even though I was far from the bush these shoes had a story to tell.

It also had me thinking about the saying of “putting yourself in another person’s shoes”. We tend to get so focused on what we are busy with and our own “problems” that we don’t see what is happening around us and what other people are up to. Moses and I come from two different backgrounds, but we both walk the same African soil and are proud of our professions.

From patrolling with the Black Mambas anti-poaching unit to following a game path to a waterhole, my shoes have seen a lot. The sole might be worn out and the stitching loses but they have plenty more places to see!

About the Author: 

Christoff Els is EcoTraining’s Visual Content Creator and spends most of his time at our different campsites capturing the beautiful moments one can only find out in the bush.