In Boston, my feet lived like caterpillar kings, cocooned away from the outside world. I took care to shelter them from the elements, always dressing them in semi-clean, hole-free socks. Each day, I firmly laced them into closed toed shoes that were either waterproof or water-resistant, and each night I tucked them into bed along with the rest of my body. Only my head remained above the covers in order to keep an eye on my teddy bear, who I do not trust.
In Cairo, my caterpillar king feet have undergone a great metamorphosis. They have emerged from their sock cocoons transformed from soft, wussy flesh colored appendages to hardened, grey, creatures of the street. I continue to watch the change with grim fascination as the days pass and Cairo grime continues to take its toll, as they become moth kings.
First, let us discuss the street environment as it relates to my feet. Since Cairo is essentially the last frontier of the desert, its streets are quite dusty. Some might even call them boulevards of dust, dust avenues, or lanes o’dust. In addition, the city’s continual decay and repair necessitates bags and piles of construction elements, which are set loose by the wind and join their long time companion, dust. To top it all off, garbage particles of various stripes also do their part in making a magical mixture of filth that is whipped up by the car, bus, pedestrian, and equine traffic.
Were the climate here similar to that of winter in Boston, my feet would have no need to concern themselves with these outside conditions. However, the climate being slightly hotter and drier, I was forced to cut the apron strings. I currently wear sandals daily, exposing most of my foot to the oven-like conditions of Cairo. Naturally, this has crisped my skin like a fine Christmas goose, and caused the formation of something akin to an exoskeleton over the majority of my foot’s surface area. This shell is comprised both of Cairo dust and dead skin cells that have baked onto my foot and now refuse to slough off.
As a cute furry creature snuggling against its mate in winter to stave off the cold, so the Cairo dust snuggles into every crease of my foot. At all times I have part of Cairo with me. Is there anything more poetic than seeing the greyish tinge of my heel and knowing that I am a carrier of the ancient history of the Pharoahs themselves? That as I walk down the street, I am absorbing the very heritage of great civilizations and various cuisines? Were I not afraid of contracting one of the more deadly diseases, I would surely stride barefoot down every thoroughfare in Cairo attempting to aggregate in the heel of my foot the very essence of this indescribable city, which I would then try to sell on ebay.
However, as much as I enjoy history immersing itself between my dead epidermal cells, my skin’s increasingly rough texture is slightly alarming, and I am almost certain my feet are going to start clacking on the ground like wooden clogs if I am not careful. After this year in Cairo, a pedicurist will only look at my feet and weep, which is why I’m going straight to a deck specialist to have her power wash my feet and then sand them down as soon as I get back to the states.
And no, I will not start wearing close toed shoes.