Tarik’s Sneakers

Tarik is the fourth son, and the sixth of seven children fathered by my friend Abdasalam. His oldest sister is 27 and his younger brother is almost two years of age. He is almost nine and owing to his place in the chronology of arrivals, Denise and I have always felt he receives a little less attention from his parents than he deserves.

This family is one to whom we are particularly close, having known them quite well for 16 years now. Though they are far from poor by Moroccan standards since Abdesalam is gainfully employed as an Arabic teacher (perhaps the best we have seen), the large family still stretches a family budget. I know something about that, having grown up in a large family. My father too, had an important but not necessarily the most lucrative of professions. To help families like this one, over the years, part of our routine when traveling to Morocco is to pack my old seabag left over from Navy days with used but usable clothing to distribute to some folks that we know can make use of it.

Last August my youngest brother’s company transferred him to Dallas from Birmingham. I spent a few days helping him pack and load a rental truck for the move. As he set aside articles to be given to Goodwill, I noticed a few items that I thought would be choice selections for our impending trip in the spring. Among those items were a pair of Nikes and a pair of Adidas athletic shoes that my nephew had outgrown. They definitely made the cut for the trip since they were in excellent condition.

I wanted to take the sneakers because I remember what a big deal getting new tennis shoes was for me. We normally got one pair a year, usually U.S. Keds, bought in late summer. We were supposed to wear them sparingly or not at all before school actually began. Once they were purchased, my brother and I applied a lot of pressure to my Mother to at least let us put them on to see the quality of the impressions we could make in the sand from the molded rubber designs on the new soles. I remember the sudden ascent of my self-esteem when in the summer before my second year of junior high, I managed to save enough money from summer jobs to purchase my first pair of Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars. I thought I had finally arrived!

It is difficult to decide before arrival how best to divide up the goods we carry so that the maximal benefit will accrue to the greatest number of people. I thought that perhaps the shoes would be about right for Tarik and put them in the bag that I planned to give to his family. When I delivered them, he became pretty excited as he tried them on. I have to admit they seemed to fit pretty well, although I’m sure they would have been worn, even if a bit too small or too large. Tarik announced they were “neeshan,” just right!

Thursday before I left Fes, I had to drop off a letter at their home and it turned out Tarik was the only person present when I arrived. Moroccans don’t wear shoes in the house, but I noticed one pair of the sneakers right by the door; obviously he had worn them that day. I didn’t tell Tarik, but I think I got as much pleasure from knowing he can wear them, as he does from owning them. Based on my experience as a nine-year old, that’s not too bad.


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