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Ngato! Ngato! Shoes!

Ngato! Ngato! Shoes!

By Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

I'm reading Rehema Nanfuka's poem, "Pleasure." There is also a man selling ladies' shoes outside my window fervently shouting, "Ngato za bakyala." He has brought the poem to life. I see the words lift off the page as the poem vividly describes the pleasure that we ladies get from buying all kinds of second-hand shoes that have made their own voyages to our unknowing feet. My own shoe rack is filled with so many of these one-hit wonders--which are perfect for just one occasion before the buckles snap, the heel gives away or the feet get so disfigured that the toes spread like flower-petals.

These fifteen poems on Shoes are an unravelling of every unsolved puzzle of every type of footwear, from the heart of Uganda's capital to the timid feet of sheep. Even people on wheelchairs wear shoes. My father was on a wheelchair and he always powdered his feet, cut his nails and wore the most dapper pair of shoes. What's a man without his shoes? Of the many people I interviewed, none had ever known anyone who didn't own at least one pair.

Reading over forty poems to select the final fifteen was like walking in each and every poet's shoes. I journaled their agonies as they poured over the throbbing ache of shoes tossed aside by an uncaring owner. Melissa Kiguwa's "Afro-Wanderings" provided the right rhythm to physical and spiritual journeys. It was remarkable to hear the voices of shoes, the baying of boots, to read from a Lillian Aujo's shoe diary and to read of an eerie animal connection in Mildred Barya's "Ode to the Sheep." Some poems took on a sexual hue, and never in my most imaginative or delirious state would I have transformed shoes into a podium to execute sex.

Edward Echwalu Soyinka, one of Uganda's foremost photojournalists, who readily agreed to take on this project with me, described the distress of shoes very well. In his essay, he explains how he, after a long day's work, tossed his shoes aside but after several introspective instances took time to feel what his own shoes would feel after a day of rigorous work. His photos also provide an entirely new universe, creating new dimensions to the project.

It's often the most silent shoes that are the strongest. It's the shoes that allow thieves to stalk upon unsuspecting people and the shoes that enable a cheetah to pounce on its prey. The silent shoes do not desire unnecessary attention to detract them from their mission. High heels and neon-coloured squeaky trainers all seem to want the same thing. Attention! They carry their owners high up on shoulders, a witness to their need for more.

This project has brought a life lesson: always invest in a good pair of shoes. There shouldn't be a price to the comfort of feet. After that, love your shoes and they'll love you back.


Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva is a Ugandan poet, certified leadership trainer, and founder and director of the Babishai Niwe (BN) Poetry Foundation for African poets. She is also the founder and director of the Babishai Niwe Leadership Academy for Women and Girls in Africa.

She was Uganda's 2014 BBC Commonwealth Games Poet for the poem "Lake Nalubaale." In 2013, she was longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa prize and shortlisted for the Poetry Foundation Ghana prize. In 2010, she was first runner-up in the international erbacce-press poetry competition, and her poetry chapbook collection, Unjumping, was published by erbacce-press in the same year. In 2012, she received a Distinction in Masters in Creative Writing from Lancaster University.

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