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More barefoot adventures in Dakinaya.
Friday, September 8

Liz and I have made a date to go shopping tomorrow. I’m interested in buying a veshti and Liz says the best place to buy them is in the old city. I’m curious to see what it’s like.

Natalie says that when she was going to school here in Navapur she attended a private school where shoes and socks were required. I asked her what she thought about coming to school barefoot. She says “It seemed daft at first but then we are living in a tropical paradise.”

Natalie goes barefoot at home but wears sandals when she steps outside. Deena, because of her profession, has to wear suits and dress shoes. But she changes into something casual when she gets home and goes barefoot. She complains that the shoes she has to wear have to be imported at considerable cost. Deena also says that another reasons Dakinayans like to go barefoot is because locally made shoes are not very good. M.Y. for his part never goes anywhere without “trainers” (running shoes).

As for the other “member” of the family, Mary the maid, I’ve never seen her wear shoes, not even flip flops. She works barefoot, wearing either a black or dark brown veshti. Her brown feet are wide and strong, feet that could walk through fire. She has wide dark eyes and prominent cheek bones and I get the feeling that she must have been attractive when she was young. I would like to talk to her but I don’t know much Dakinayan. So far I’ve only learned shlamaa which means hello and goodbye, shaaloo which means please, goortamana which means thank you, and charchayata which means repeat after me. And that’s it.

Saturday, September 9

Today Liz Shimunayan came by so we could go on our shopping date. She wore a beautiful blue veshti with a white and green floral pattern. She also wore a green t-shirt and a pair of white rubber flip-flops. She says that these and the chapalees she wears to school are the only shoes she owns.

We rode to the old city in an auto-rickshaw, which is a kind of three wheeled motorcycle with the driver sitting in front and the passengers sit in the back under a canvas canopy. Natalie came along too. She said she hadn’t gone to the old city in a long time. We passed by the University on the way. The campus sprawls over a considerable area, but I don’t think it’s as big as the UCLA campus. This is where M.Y. teaches Mathematics. Liz says that her father works here too, as a Biochemistry professor.

The area around the University looks modern but everything changes as soon as we crossed Polusayan street into the old city. Here the streets were narrow and the buildings were made of wood with black shingles on the roofs. Liz took us to a shop that sells all kinds of beautiful silk clothes. I bought a red silk veshti with a pattern of white Hibiscus flowers. It cost 80 Tolakas which comes out to 10 dollars. We also went by a leather goods shop where I bought a pair of chapalees for 100 Tolakas, which is about 12 dollars.
I like how they look on my feet; just a loop for the big toe and a strap across the instep. They are the most minimal shoes you can buy. The closest thing to going barefoot.

For lunch we had "slishees." These are sandwiches in which the bread is sliced very thick, almost an inch, and are filled with highly spiced meat and slices of goat cheese. We had them with Cokes. In Dakinaya soft drinks still come in little bottles, not in cans. Then we went by the Cathedral. Most Dakinayans practice Nestorian Christianity. The Cathedral is called Hananyeshu, which means Merciful Jesus, and it is a square structure, with a large pendentive dome on the top. We stepped inside, but we had to remove our sandals and enter barefoot. Inside the light streamed in through rows of windows, and it gave the light blue of the interior a mystical appearance. The Dakinayan church does not use images, but there is an impressive bronze cross in front of the altar screen. It was very beautiful.

We returned to the Tomasayan house and Liz showed me how to wear the veshti. It turns out that the way to wear a wrap-around garment like a veshti is to tie it about an inch higher than your normal waist line, and tie it on the side not the front. That way it won’t fall off or start swirling around if there’s a breeze.

Sunday, September 10

Today, Natalie and I went shopping along Davidayan Boulevard. This part of the city does not have supermarkets, which means that if you want to buy groceries, you have to go to a grocery store, if you want to buy bread or baked goods you have to go to a bakery and so on. I noticed that not only do the children go barefoot, the boys as well as the girls, but also most of the housewives doing the shopping also went barefoot. Natalie and I, however, wore rubber flip flops, because the pavement was getting hot. The thing is, though, that this isn’t a poor area at all. In fact, most of the people in the neighborhood work in the University or in one of the shops in the area.

I met our next door neighbors as we were shopping; Aleksandra Markusayan, who appears to be in her thirties, and her daughters Veronika (who is 12) and Danyela (who is 8). Aleksandra teaches at the primary school, while Veronika attends the sixth level at George Eliot Secondary School. All three of them were barefoot. Aleksandra wore an orange t-shirt and a black veshti with a pattern of white and orange diamonds on it. Veronika wore a white dress with a purple floral pattern on it while Danyela wore a bright yellow dress.

As Aleksandra said “We Dakinayanees like to go barefoot even if our feet get dirty.”
A “Dakinayanee” is a Dakinayan woman or girl. She also said that Veronika was happy to know that she would be able to attend secondary school barefoot. Suddenly I envied them. To grow up with your feet unfettered by shoes, and to always have your soles in direct contact with the ground. How I wanted to be one of them!

I also met Aleksandra’s husband, Gregory, who teaches Electrical Engineering at the University. It turns out he did his graduate work at UCLA. Guess this is my “small world” moment.

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