Tyred out


Cobblers. Rwanda doesn't have cobblers, but it does have men (never women) who sit by the side of the road or in the markets stitching and gluing.

When our friend Aengus was with us we found ourselves in Nyamirambo market. He wanted to see the real Rwanda so we took him down to one of the more colourful if less attractive areas in town. Just inside the entrance to the market, between the fly-infested meat and the second-hand t-shirts, was a team of shoe menders. Besides mending shoes they were also selling a limited range (three pairs) of the latest in off-road designer sandals.

Aengus took a fancy to these and tried them on using a stool in the corner of the corrugated iron stall. These sandals are special. Made out of old car tyres they are guaranteed for ten thousand miles and look like the kind of footwear no serious traveler should be without. I bought a pair a few weeks ago - Michelin cross-plies with plenty of tread left. At RWF2,000 they are also cheaper than the mass produced plastic things sold on some of the other stalls.

While Aengus was having his new sandals fitted, I remembered that my boots were looking the worse for wear. The local tracks and the heat had taken their toll to the point where the soles were threatening to part company from the uppers altogether. The shoe mender looked at them excitedly, making vigorous stitching motions with his hands. I passed the boots over wondering if I wouldn't be walking home like some of the children in bare feet. I needn't have worried. In twenty minutes the boots had been glued and stitched, good for another ten years.

The Rwandans don't have much, but they make the most of what they have. When all you need is something to protect your feet, heading into town for the latest fashion is just a waste of time and good rubber.