When You Need New Sandals

I can’t find sandals to fit my children’s feet.  You know, like flip-flop style sandals. The cheap-o type they need to wear 90% of the time (except when they go to school) in our African lives.  Most people here buy basic sandals, commonly found in the markets and shops.

But they don’t come in my boys’ size.

I can buy children’s sizes, which are too small.  I can buy men’s sizes, which are too big. I have asked for the size I need: 38 in European sizes.  Vendors them tell me it doesn’t exist.

How is that even possible?  How does a whole size not exist anywhere in the country?  What are the size 38 people doing? Are they wearing sandals with their toes hanging out the front or with extra plastic flapping around in the back?

I don’t understand.

Eventually I found some of the slide type of sandals rather than the thing-between-your-toes type.  The length turned out to be ok, but the width….Their feet can’t manage them. All ten toes completely hang off the front of the sandals because they slide so far forward.

The last time I travelled to America, I bought some good ol’ Old Navy flip-flops to bring back for my kiddos.  But little boys living in Uganda seem to be a set-up for destroying things quickly, so….

At some point, maybe after getting a little tired of their footwear options, I began hearing a repetitive question: can you buy us rugabire?  



It’s a local name for a local item.

Rugabire are sandals made from upcycled tires.  That’s right, tires.


Men will take old tires and cut them into flip-flops.  Yes, as you might envision, some bigger sizes have a slight curve on both ends when they are waiting to be worn.  

As we say here in Uganda, no wastage of resources.

Rugabire are what my children want to wear.

Now, in case you were not sure, let me tell you: Rugabire are not exactly high-class items.

I’m certain most Ugandans are not thinking: man, I wish someone loved me enough to buy me some rugabire.

I’m don’t know which friend sports tires on their feet, but I imagine the twins saw someone they admire wearing these fashionable footwear.

Yet, as you can imagine, ragabire have some genuine durability many imported shoes do not.

So, as a fun little surprise recently, I had the boys hop into the van, without telling them where we were headed.  I turned off the main road and onto a pothole-filled road, around a couple corners, and to the spot a man usually has a tarp lying on the ground covered with the beloved tire sandals.

When I parked the car, with wide eyes and toothy smiles, the boys realized the day and time had finally come:  I had agreed to buy rugabire.

I handed them money to stuff in their pockets as they climbed out of the sliding door, each toe hanging out the front of their sandals.  Immediately the twins surveyed the mobile shoe store to see if the cobbler had two pair of the perfect size. One boy quickly found some he could wear.  Another struggled a bit, only finding a pair just a tad too long.

No problem.  The footwear artist took the sandals, grabbed his knife, cut off about ¾ of an inch from the back of both sandals, and handed them back.  Perfect.

Each pair cost about the equivalent of $1.30.  Pretty comparable to Old Navy’s once-a-year $1 flip-flop sale each June.

Since that day, whenever adults realize the boys have rugabire, and I tell them my children repeatedly asked for them over the course of several weeks before I finally made the purchase, they give me a big jolly smile.

My friends struggle to believe rugabire were asked for and were purchased for my boys.  But I get the sense that they kind of like it.

Most people would expect an American parent in Africa would be able to buy any type of shoes her children want.  (Of course, provided their size exists…) It is often assumed I have an endless supply of financial resources. So, I’m sure this is the source of disbelief.

Handing over the 10,000 Ugandan Shillings ($2.60) and watching the joy on my boys’ faces got me thinking.

I have a heavenly Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  He has access to all things, and can create what doesn’t even exist.

When I make requests before Him, does he see me like I saw my boys that day?  Does He hand over the simple little things that, to Him, are worth so little, and watch my face fill with joy?

Does He ever listen to my requests, and shake His head a little with a slight grin?  Wondering why I ask for something so simple, as if I do not know what He is capable of?

For weeks I have had two notions from this event simultaneously rattling around in my head.  They seem to be paradoxical, yet I think they both have truth in them.

First of all, too often I long for what is unnecessary and beyond what I actually need.  Instead of focusing on what I don’t have or what seems to be the perfect solution, I should look more closely around my situation.  I should observe what is right around me and truly more fulfilling than the grandiose idea in my head. Maybe I want impressive and expensive new shoes, when old tires are more efficient in the long run.

On the other hand, sometimes I am too satisfied with the simple, the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday.  Sometimes God calls me to dream for more, to think bigger, to push beyond the typical. Sometimes He wonders why I settle for the simple, the good-enough-for-right-now, when He has the absolute best in store for me.  He asks me why my heart is set on rugabire when He can give me so much more.

All in the same minute, I love the childlike request from my boys to wear tires on their calloused feet, yet I wonder why they didn’t ask for something better.

So here I am, sitting before my Father asking for wisdom to know when I should have childlike satisfaction in the simple answers already available to me, or when I should ask Him for what seems unattainable for me, but is easy for Him to provide.

What about you?  Do you ever find yourself longing for something when all the while something even better is right at your fingertips?  Do you ever find yourself making requests of God that may be too simple?


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