The Shoes of Childhood
Every year children in Nigeria are given a new pair of Bata shoes, either brown or black, big enough to accommodate growing feet. There is little choice. Atinuke Adeoye’s experience in Dartmouth is different. Her children exactly know what shoes they want and where to buy them to please their budget-conscious mother.
Oh, how I remember my “bàtà,” the smell of the leather and the pebbled or smooth texture. The shoes of my childhood were usually brown, oxblood or black, with comfortable insoles and thick rubber soles. A Canadian, family-owned business called Bata Limited was the first to market and introduce shoes to Nigeria. As a result, when I was growing up, we used the word bàtà to refer to all shoes. “Bata” were the best affordable ‘back-to-school’ footwear in those days.
Growing up, we had no choice of style, colour or heel height for back-to-school shoes. My mother would take us to the Bata store, point to a style and ask the salesperson for a pair in our size. We would have loved to try other styles, but we were so thrilled to get a brand-new pair instead of the shoes passed down from older siblings. In my secondary school days, every student was expected to wear brown or black, low-heeled footwear, regardless of their family’s economic status.
When my mom took us to the Bata store in Nigeria, we were home within an hour with our new pair of bàtà to last for a year or more. She usually bought slightly oversized shoes so we could “grow into” them, and if necessary, they were repaired. It was much cheaper to take our bàtà to the shoemaker’s shop to have them repaired than to buy new shoes.
Nowadays, we are overwhelmed with choices—brands, styles, designs, materials, weights. I can’t blame my children for being picky or reluctant to wear their older siblings’ hand-me-downs. Buying shoes for them is quite different from when my parents bought shoes for me.
If allowed, my kids will tell me the exact pairs they want, irrespective of the cost. Two hundred dollars for only one pair of shoes? Huh? Unh-uh! We are an average Canadian family and can probably afford one pair at that price, but when they require different pairs for every sport they are into? No way! It takes months of planning and looking for sales to find a pair that I am willing to pay for. Knowing this, they do research online. They read reviews and find the exact brand, style, even the stores carrying the shoes at a discounted price before leaving the house.
They can even choose from tons of options without a visit to the store and have a style of their choice. Unlike me, they are not thrilled with trying on different styles and choose their back-to-school shoes online if it is within our family budget. Even though I loved my bàtà of those days and the time spent with my family, I would have enjoyed going into many shoe stores to touch and feel the different selections available before making a choice.
My kids would not dream of growing into their shoes. They want them to fit not later but now! Yet, I partially agree with them because most modern-day shoes are not made to last long enough to be grown into.
With my children’s growth spurts and the changes in Canadian weather, we shop for new shoes every season. Just recently, one of my still-growing kids, who bought sneakers in her exact size only three months earlier, walked up to me and lifted her feet. Her big toe was peeking out of her sneakers.
“Mom, look!” she said. “I know exactly what shoes I want and where to get them for a good price.” I laughed and wondered: Why are there no all-purpose sneakers or shoes like the bàtà of my childhood?
ATINUKE ADEOYE is a Canadian of African descent. She immigrated with her family to Dartmouth in April 2005. She is an avid reader and loves to tell stories using numbers.