I have always wondered why men of a certain age wear stockings and sandals. I might have found a working answer, but the epiphany needs some background. On a recent cold and rainy morning I was walking from office to car to meeting when I stepped on a loose concrete paver. Ninety kilogrammes of lean beef and muscle pressing down on the edge of the paver had the net impact of raising it out of its socket, then slamming it down.
Subsequently, a significant amount of muddy rainwater splashed on the front and back of my pants. Dark jeans or suit would have taken the beating, but such is my luck that this was one of those days when I was wearing grey chinos. The stains were unmissable.
Paper towels, urgently applied, helped but only just. My options? Dash home or send for a fresh pair, but my meeting was in 15 minutes; buy a new pair but where to find an open shop at 6.45am in this, our Kampala?
So wearing my bravest face instead, I hit the meeting, arriving just in time. I don’t recall anything from the meeting. All I remember were the brown stains burning through my pant legs, even when I was seated throughout. When it was time to leave, I explained to my neighbour what had happened – they uummmhhed, arghhhhred, said their polite ‘bambi’ while admitting they had not seen the stains before – before dashing back to the safety of the office.
As the day wore on, I noticed something: While the stains were still visible, no one seemed to pay them any attention. And if they did, they were either too polite to mention them or were dealing with their own stains, literally and metaphorically. Then it struck me: We spend too much time in our lives worrying about what other people think about us and often make decisions to meet some unseen, unspoken expectations when it really doesn’t matter.
At the time of the incident, I was reading Misbehaving, a book on behavioural economics by Richard Thaler in which this point is repeatedly made, but it took stains on my pants to put things in black and white or, rather, brown and grey.
So we spend up to 10 years building the mansions of our dreams only to move in when we retire and discover we have too much house and not enough humanity because the children all flew out of the nest. Or take expensive loans for holidays or to buy TVs as large as mattresses, which we hardly watch.
The show-off culture of social media today puts young people under so much pressure to have the latest gadgets or flashiest lifestyles all curated, one frame at a time, on Instagram. Who cares? It is so bad, employees used to steal from their employers to start their own businesses now they steal to fund their introduction ceremonies. A bonfire of vanities, so to speak.
A friend sold his car and decided to spend a year car-pooling, using Uber, or walking. Passing motorists, the ‘what happened’ question unsaid in their sympathetic looks, often stopped to offer lifts, which he politely declined. A year later, he is back driving one of two SUVs, is much fitter, and walks whenever he can. Who cares?
Truth be told, no one. This isn’t to say you ought to live a life of self-flagellation and misery. Wear your hand-stitched Italian suit if you want; buy 600-thread Egyptian cotton sheets if they help you sleep better at night; go out and seek all the glory you want. But do it for you, not for those you think are watching. They aren’t.
Those men in stockings and sandals, I now realise, were once young, dashing and full of ambition. They needed to show off the diamonds on the soles of their feet. Then one day, they realised that personal choice and comfort mattered more than image. It is possible the answer lies somewhere between the need to keep feet cool and clean, or warm but not too hot. It doesn’t really matter.
They wear sandals because they do not want to wear shoes. And pebbles hurt bare feet. They wear stockings because they want to wear stockings. It is as simple as that. Those wazee have been around long enough to know everyone is too busy taking care of their stains to care about yours.
I will hold out from the fashion for as long as I can (also to prevent being murdered by my daughter), but there are plenty of lessons in there. Do you?
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. [email protected]