When we were on our journey to our future home, we had no idea where we’d end up, but we knew it would most certainly be in a better place. Trekking through a tropical jungle of Cambodia, for five days and nights, blisters formed under my young bare feet. I had no shoes (which is a story all its own). Our immediate family of six plus two relatives lived in the jungle among the jungle dwellers for a couple of months. Every day I would explore the jungle, mostly in search of sustenance, barefoot, feeling every inch of the soles of my two feet touching and feeling the rough textures on the debris-filled surface of the moist ground.
Some days I didn’t mind it when the surface was of soft, cool, dry sand or a patch of soft green grass. In fact, it was quite pleasant. One day in particular, I still remember vividly because it was so hard for an eight-year-old me. Even as decades have gone by, I still have the image etched in my mind of me struggling and feeling the pain beneath my feet.
“Every day I would explore the jungle…barefoot, feeling every inch of the soles of my two feet touching and feeling the rough textures on the debris-filled surface of the moist ground.”
It was a few long days into our journey in the unfamiliar jungle when I thought how good it would feel to have shoes on my feet again. I remember frequently thinking of what materials I might find in the jungle to make some shoes. That day was in early February in southeast Asia (just 14 degrees north of the equator). February is when the sun starts to become more intense and unforgiving, especially in the middle of the day when she stares at us with her forceful eyes straight down from the open sky. In openings between canopied trees and bushes, that sun would heat up the sand and soil. If you’ve ever walked barefoot in the hot, dry sand on the beach, you know how cruel Mother Nature can be. My little blister-filled bare feet walking through patches of heated sand, intermittently poked by hard spikes of newly burned patches of grass…memories of the experience still take my breath away.
“…the sun starts to become more intense and unforgiving, especially in the middle of the day when she stares at us with her forceful eyes straight down from the open sky.”
“If you’ve ever walked barefoot in the hot, dry sand on the beach you know how cruel Mother Nature can be.”
After months of living in the jungle, my mom had an opportunity to re-enter civilization in a bordering country, Thailand. In addition to food, she was able to buy me a pair of brown sandals. It was an incredible feeling to have something to protect my now-calloused feet! A few weeks after, we finally escaped the jungle life. We made our way to a refugee camp in Thailand. On our way there, I noticed how beautifully paved and clean the roads were. I wished the paths through the jungle I’d walked had been paved like this–my steps wouldn’t be so rough. My wish on that day was to have future paths I walk on be smooth and clear of rocks and sticks so I can walk without pain if I don’t have any shoes on.
“My wish…was to have future paths I walk on be smooth and clear of rocks and sticks so I can walk without pain…”
The memories came to me as I was driving to an appointment today. On my way back home I realized that all the roads underneath my feet were well paved. My shoes did not once come in contact with any soil, from the moment I got into my car in my cement floor garage, drove on the paved road, walked on the asphalt parking lot to the building where my appointment was, and back home. It was like a dream. Most of my adult life, my days have been mostly like this, walking on paved, smooth roads.
“…all the roads underneath my feet were well paved.”
“It was like a dream.”
Living in my adopted homeland, life became mundane and I didn’t see anything special about it. The realization that came to me today made me feel more appreciative of the things I’ve been taking for granted because of what’s been made available to me to make my life a little easier. I’m grateful and thankful for the people who’ve worked hard to make life easier for others. Today I’m thankful for all the taxpayers and construction workers who make traveling smoother. And of course, the shoemakers of the world.
A Day of
Reflection & Gratitude
By Phet Haverkos