Danilo Araña Arao
Philippine Daily Inquirer (Youngblood), 9 February 1995, p. 7
AT long last, I had enough cash early this month to buy myself a gift: a Yano tape with the lyrics of my favorite song "Tsinelas."
Why is it my favorite, you ask? Well, Dong Abay, Yano's lead singer, and I have something in common. We both have a disdain for shoes and we would rather walk around the metropolis wearing slippers.
In my college days at UP Diliman, I gained some notoriety for coming to school in slippers. This habit more or less isolated me from the "mainstream" of the College of Mass Communication. Just imagine having rich brats for classmates, those who could afford Giordano shirts and Bulldog shoes, and who considered Bench products as pang-katulong lang (Ouch naman!).
A few days before my graduation (yes, I made it... somehow), my professor told me to start wearing shoes since journalists have to look respectable and presentable. If you want to work as a reporter or a PR consultant, she said, you must not only be smart, you have to look smart.
I knew she meant well, but I have always had trouble being a conformist. I've always wanted to maintain my own identify. Still I was forced at that time to get a job since my scholarship had already lapsed and I had a sister studying at the Ateneo to look after.
I didn't have enough money to buy a decent pair of leather shoes, so applying for PR firms and other established institutions was definitely out. (How could I have borrowed from friends who were similarly cash-strapped, if not even worse off?) I was cursing myself for not saving some of the stipends from my scholarship and my honoraria as an editor of the Philippine Collegian. Then I was almost blaming my slippers for depriving me of a life after UP.
Then the unexpected happened. I was introduced to the (small) world of development work. A sympathetic friend who used to work for an NGO told me there was a job opening for a writer. To make the long story short, I applied and got accepted.
One good thing about this line of work is that no one can accuse you of "selling out" after graduation. For one, this NGO has a progressive outlook in life. It is also known for coming up with some sharp analyses of what's happening in society. (Of course, there are reformist tendencies in development work, but let's leave out the polemics for now.)
But I think the best thing that ever happened to me was that I found a job that did not come with a dress code. It may not be financially rewarding, but the company had a flexible policy that allowed the staff to make salary advances (SAs) anytime. And so, my old slippers and I would report for work, make SAs if necessary, and pursue my political convictions at the same time.
Later on, I transferred to another progressive NGO for personal reasons, and it was fortunate that me and my slippers were accommodated.
After some time, I saved enough money to buy a pair of shoes, which I only used for meetings outside the office and other formal occasions. Such events seldom happen, but I kept my shoes clean just the same.
It's a good thing I did that, since I accidentally got a teaching job at a university along Taft Avenue. I used to spend my Saturdays pursuing graduate studies there, and a classmate who teaches Political Science at the same university asked me to try the academe even on a part-time basis. Of course, she said that it meant giving up my slippers since the university has a dress code for faculty members. Again, to make the long story short, I applied, got accepted and put aside my slippers (in that order).
It was not much of a career move, since I still maintained my fulltime work with an NGO. But the marked difference in my lifestyle was that I was wearing shoes more often. What we need to keep in mind here is that I still wear slippers when I have no classes.
For most shoe wearers out there, there are some lessons we can get from putting on slippers. We can literally keep our feet on the ground, knowing fully well the filth that litters our streets. We can actually feel the rocky pavement we're stepping on, very much unlike the comfort that shoes may provide, particularly those made in some western countries.
Wearing slippers forces us to integrate with the dirt below, like it or not. Of course, we can wash the unwanted grime when we get home, but the fact that our feet have gotten dirty even for just a few minutes is already there, along with the temporary feeling of being so unclean.
We need to experience such inconveniences to be able to look beyond the semblance of cleanliness of our streets and consequently see the slime we step on, most probably left there by those who appropriate the concrete pavements as shelter for the night.
The bottom line is clear: I prefer to wear slippers to be literally in touch with reality --- to know and feel the hidden dirt that has been there since time immemorial, particularly in uncemented areas. While I have learned to conform with people I meet when necessary, I still have my identify and more importantly my convictions not only to clean my feet but the ground I step on.
I really owe a lot to the NGOs I have worked with not only for exposing me to the harsh realities of life through the books and lectures they provided, but also for letting me wear slippers.
Call me crazy, but in the May elections, I will definitely vote for a candidate who would exhort youngsters like me to wear slippers even only once in a while. Of course, my candidate must not only say it, he or she must also lead by example.
For those who would like to take up the cause, I have come up with the slogan: "Don't lose touch with reality just because you have imported shoes. After all, shoes are nothing but a reflection of one's sole."
Danny Arao, 26, lost at least three pairs of slippers in numerous rally dispersals.