If you want to understand a person – look at their shoes, or lack of.
As the most frequently used interface between ourselves and our physical environment more than anything else that we our footwear treads the fine balance between communicating both need and intent. In dustier climes with a significant population engaged in manual labour tasks – keeping shoes clean (and white trainers/sneakers white) is a strong signal that you’ve risen above the crowd and can afford not be be engaged in manual labour tasks. Shoes can tell you a lot about someone where ever you are, in Ethiopia more than most.
Ethiopia has a thriving shoe-cleaning culture – sit at a cafe for more than 5 minutes and someone will offer to clean your shoes – offering something to rest your feet on whilst you wait. Cleaning crews sit around big bowls of sudsy water scrubbing shoes back to perfect whiteness. Clean shoes as a signifier of status.
Photos: a trader in Merkato – drying out his freshly scrubbed shoes and comfortable wearing a temporary solution whilst they dry.