By: Brian Harper
Community Outreach Coordinator
After graduating from Marquette University in 2011, I moved to the Peruvian Andes to work as a teacher with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
Peru is an extraordinary country, richly diverse in its landscape and history. It is ripe with exceptionally kind and wonderful people, and I made friends who had an abundance of fun and lovable characteristics.
Height was not amongst these lovable characteristics. If having blue eyes, a beard and a shaggy head of blonde hair was not enough to make me stick out, being 6’3” really took the cake.
I remember walking down a street in Cusco one day and passing a little girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old, strolling with her mother. She cocked her head back, squinted up at me and gasped, “Wow!”
It is an odd experience to suddenly find yourself a novelty. For the most part, encounters like this one made it amusing. Other times it was a challenge.
Shopping for clothes, for example, was basically out of the question. Anything coming in my size was probably only available via special order and at a cost far beyond my volunteer’s stipend of $60/month.
Because of the rugged mountain environment and wear and tear that came with hand-washing my clothes, it was important to have a sturdy wardrobe. This was especially true for my shoes. Traipsing to and fro on rocky, uphill streets sprinkled with loose pebbles and horse manure called for a good pair of boots. While wearing secondhand shoes is not typically a great idea, I happily accepted a friend’s offer to wear his size 13 Timberlands that were too big for his comparatively normal-sized feet.
These boots got me through a lot: steep mountain summits, dancing at religious and cultural festivals, managing a classroom full of 35 rambunctious teenagers. The true sign that my day had begun was when I laced up, looked down and relayed to my shoes that for better or worse, we were in this together.
When the time came to leave Peru after living there for a year and a half, I seriously considered bringing my boots back to the United States. It was a ridiculous idea; they were scuffed, worn out and so conspicuous that I surely would have been the person TSA pulled out of line before each flight.
But I had grown attached to them. As silly as it seemed, they had literally supported me through countless formative and life-changing experiences. It was really hard to part with my students and friends, but it was also kind of sad to say goodbye to my boots.
Who knows where these boots are today? I imagine they are tucked away in a Peruvian landfill, lonely and reminiscing about bygone days when they had a pair of feet to love them.
Wherever they are, I hope they know I miss them, too, and that because of them, I get a little sentimental when it comes to shoes.