I have given up on shoes. It’s a mutual arrangement. After two weeks in Subic Bay, I have worn my hiking boots twice (once on arrival and once when collecting browse from the neighbouring stretch of jungle), my trainers barely a handful of times, and my flip-flops every single day, at nearly every single hour. The 1£ pair from Primark survived mucking out monkey enclosures, tromping through mud after an unseasonal rain, wandering around bustling Olongapo, and trekking through a forest up half a mountain to my friend’s Aeta village before the shoes started truly flagging on structural integrity.
I have shoved errant bits of foam and plastic back into connection more times than I decided to count, taped the shoes back together twice, and even tried to salvage them one final time today, my last full day here in the Philippines, with a hot glue gun.
…I don’t generally recommend it.
With my flip-flops now registering more pain than purpose, they’ve been abandoned to a new fate as future suture practice pads, and I have taken to following in the (literal) footsteps of the centre staff of walking around the indoor component of W.I.N. barefoot. My skin is rough and worn and ant-bitten in ways it wasn’t when I first arrived here, and I have probably been exposed to enough of the local microbiome at this point that I’m not risking much in the way of my own health. However, as someone raised in the ways of a PPE and disinfectant-built healthcare model, I’m still hyperaware of every inch on me that carries potential fomite risk when it comes to my resident domestic patients (a pup with a derm wound that’s healing up well and a gaggle of cats with a gigglet of kittens). I’ve got cross-contamination warnings blaring in the back of my mind constantly. Caution is still very much in place there. And I have never before washed my hands so frequently.
This is partially due to also having taken on the practice of eating “camaillan style” – bare hands for utensils, banana leaf for a plate, and, whatever else is on it, a lot of rice.
Most days I have cooked for myself, but today, the team made a vegetarian (and vegan, as it turned out) version of “gina ta ang papaya” to send me off. The flavors of green papaya, “miracle leaves,” ginger, chillies, calamansi extract, and garlic all cooked in coconut milk and piled onto rice tasted a kind of vibrant I with my safe and simple foods here have been sorely missing.
Tomorrow I pack up my bag and begin unpacking my experiences. I’ll be returning to Scotland via Doha with a six hour layover during the small and surreal hours of the morning poised in the middle.
I imagine that for all of it, I will be wearing shoes.