The black dress shoes I came with got ruined, fast. There’s something about persistent mud that can shorten the lifespan of your shoes, if you don’t take proper care of them. And it looks like I didn’t take proper care of them.
Mud is a serious issue around here. Avoiding mud is part skill, part luck, and wholly impossible. After a light rain, the path I take out of my village into the city becomes a mudbath, and it sticks for days. I’ve learned to navigate a series of rocks and a strip of grass to carry me across the 70 meters of mudslide. My host brother also complains about the mud, saying that he doesn’t like winter at all, but that if the mud was less prominent he could like winter just fine. Sounds like winter isn’t getting any love from him soon, unless it cleans up it’s act.
This is all an introduction to the short adventure that was buying shoes in Azerbaijan. With my own shoes falling apart, strips of leather shuffling off, it was becoming slightly embarrassing to strap them on, especially when everyone else’s shoes are in tip-top shine. So my brother and I ventured into the bazaar to scope out some shoes. The first place we found was a friend of his, of course, and they tried really hard to find me a nice pair of shoes. There we’re a couple problems. First, Azerbaijanis love a pointy shoe. I don’t. Miri tells me that the pointy-shoe phenomenon is a recent development, in the last two years. I think it probably needs to make as quick an exit as it did an entrance. Second, shoe size is a deal-breaker. I needed a size 45 or 46, the equivalent of a 13 in American sizes. This, apparently, is a tough size to come by and they kept bringing me 44s to try on. That didn’t work out very well. After being shown some fake alligator skin shoes, we decided to move on. We tried three other places, all of which had a nice shoe I would consider, but all in size 44. At one place, they told me they had the right shoe in the right size three times, and three times went to look for it, only to come back empty-handed each trip.
Our last stop was the smallest shoe shop there was, were one shoe looked like a possibility. And they had it in 45! They joked about me playing basketball a lot, and were fascinated with the American. I got my shoes for 20 AZN (~$25). They’re a little uncomfortable, without the extra padding you might find in a nicer shoe, but they get the job done, they’re really shiny, and I look that much more Azerbaijani because of it.