The Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland is logically away from the city. To the nearest store it is about an hour and a half walk, in the hot African sun. After doing that once I looked for another option to go into the town. Turns out the hostel had a once-per-day shuttle service.
Swaziland isn’t a wealthy country, ranking 105th in the world in GDP per capita ($5,181) but for Africa it is not bad at #13. (As a comparison the USA is at $53,042). One day while at the shopping center there was one guy I noticed who looked in worse shape than everyone else. He had shoes that looked like they had been repaired four or five times and not done professionally. The back of one of the shoes was completely caved in, rendering it now a slip on. After hobbling along so he wouldn’t lose his shoe he had sat on the curb, I sat next to him and tried to talk to him but he spoke no English.
I went about my shopping but I couldn’t stop thinking about that man. He looked beat down by life. His wrinkled face had no smile. He was probably in his late 60s or early 70s. I couldn’t imagine my parents sitting on a curb with busted shoes at that age.
When I was done shopping I asked the driver if he knew the man, he said he did and that the man couldn’t find work because he suffered from mental problems. Suddenly I blurted out, “I want to buy him new shoes.” My driver was shocked. I asked if he could talk to the man for me and ask him if he would like new shoes. I watched as he walked over, after leaning down and saying something, the old man’s face lit up.
Now with some pep in his step, the three of us went to the shoe store. My driver translated for the man “Which shoes can I pick from?” I told the shop owner and the driver, give him whatever shoes he wants and I will pay the bill. The old man must have tried on five or six pairs, enjoying the process. He finally settled on a pair of black leather low cut boots.
The driver said he is very happy and wants to thank you. I didn’t need a translation because I could see it on his face. The shoes ended up costing me about $60, which put me way over my daily budget, but it was completely worth it. I never saw the man again, and probably never will, but in my mind I can see him strutting his stuff down the streets of Swaziland in his shiny new boots.