Total Pageviews

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Missing Little Black Shoe

When my friend, Sonam, had to attend a special puja (ceremony) in another village for a week, I volunteered to stay with little Jimmy while she was away.  Everything was going smoothly until one morning when Jimmy discovered that he had lost one of his little black school shoes at soccer practice.  At first, this seemed like no big deal, but little did I know that his black shoe and me were going to be the biggest talk of my school and that this shoe would bring me a big lesson on an important Buddhist custom.

Jimmy's black school shoes
When the first bell rang for school to start, Jimmy started to pretend that he had a massive stomachache and couldn’t go to school.  Minutes before he appeared fine jumping around the house and it was only when it was time to put on his shoes that he started to fake that he way dying of a stomachache.  I knew that the real reason he didn’t want to go to school was because he lost one of his solid black school shoes, which are part of the required school uniform.

As he fibbed about stomach pains, I pleaded with him to wear his other black shoes, but he stressed that he couldn’t because they had a white stripe around the edges.  I told him that I would ask our principal to allow him to wear those shoes until we could find the missing shoe or buy new ones.  However, in addition to his magical stomachache, he claimed that he no longer understood English and I was struggling negotiating with an eight-year old who now only spoke Dzongkha.  He kept rolling around repeating, “Miss, I no go to school, stomach, aaaahhh pain and shoes no….(then he rambled on in Dzongkha).”  It became apparent to me that this child was not budging and I was going to be late for teaching. 

That’s when I got a bright idea to call his Dzongkha teacher/my dear friend, Norbu, the monk, to come and help me get Jimmy off to school.  Norbu has known Jimmy since Jimmy was a baby because Norbu is Sonam’s childhood friend.  Norbu is also a strict and cool teacher that all the little kids look up to.  Thus, I knew that Norbu could handle the situation better than me, especially since I’m such a softy when it comes to my little Jimmy. 

Minutes later I met Norbu halfway down the mountain to further explain why Jimmy was still in the house refusing to go to school.  Norbu said that I should go down to the morning assembly so at least one of us wouldn’t be late and he would handle Jimmy.  So I rushed down to the school just as the last bell rang and like magic I spotted one of the teachers carrying Jimmy’s missing shoe.  As the students scrambled to get into position for the morning prayer, I claimed the shoe, which was found on the soccer field.  I was so happy; I got a little zing in my step.  I dangled the shoe by its long laces practically skipping across the courtyard in excitement to take my morning stance in front with the other teachers.

Then, to my surprise, I discovered that Norbu was already back.  As I continued to glide across the front of the courtyard, I waved the shoe around to show him that our problem was solved.  In fact, I was so thrilled that I didn’t realize all the teachers and students were staring at me holding the shoe like it was a trophy.  After I heard a few giggles, I quickly stopped treating the shoe like a golden prize.   

I immediately asked Norbu, “Where is Jimmy?  How did you get back so fast?”   He explained that as soon as Jimmy saw him coming, Jimmy’s stomachache vanished.  Jimmy jumped into his black shoes with the white stripes before Norbu could say a word and they were off to school.  “Norbu you rock” was all I had time to say as I zoomed off to tell Jimmy that I had his shoe so he no longer had to have a “stomachache.” 

Morning Assembly in the Courtyard 
Clinging onto the ends of the long shoelaces, I rushed over to where Jimmy was supposed to be standing in his “house formation” during morning assembly, but he wasn’t there.  I searched around the courtyard of 500+ students that were neatly standing in block formations getting ready for prayer; back and forth I went dangling the shoe and feeling a little panicky that he was nowhere in sight.  
In the staff room
I asked all his friends, “Where is Jimmy?”  I was so worried about where Jimmy was that I wasn’t aware of how funny I looked dangling one shoe around the whole courtyard, which grabbed the entire school's attention.  A couple of people even joked, “Hey, Nice Shoe! One shoe?”  However, I was on such a mission that it didn’t occur to me that others where intrigued by my attachment to the one shoe. 

Finally, the morning prayer started and I moped back to the front of the courtyard with the black shoe and no Jimmy.  I held onto it for the entire morning assembly worrying about Jimmy’s whereabouts.  Fortunately, after the morning assembly Jimmy’s friends found him hiding in his classroom and they told him that I had his shoe, so he came out of hiding.  He was hiding because he felt awkward/embarrassed not wearing the required dress shoes.  I tried to ease his worries by promising him that I would keep the shoe safe for him until we went home. 

My desk in the staffroom
Jimmy's shoe on my bookshelf
Trying to keep my promise, I put the shoe on my desk in the staff room thinking that was the safest place for it and then I went off to teach my first period class.  After first period, when I came back to my desk, my heart dropped as I discovered the shoe was gone.  Eventually I found it underneath my desk and assumed that it must have fallen.  So I picked it up and tried to make it extra safe by putting it on top of the bookshelf that is connected to my desk indicating that this was my shoe. Normally I wouldn’t put shoes on desks, but I didn’t want it on the floor in case someone thought that it was lost and took it away.

Once again, when I came back from second period, the shoe was missing only to be found on the floor.  I was in such a hurry that I didn’t think too much of it and I wedged in tighter in my bookshelf.  However, the third and forth time that I discovered it on the floor, I thought why is this shoe always trying to run away?  Is someone playing a joke on me? I can’t lose this shoe and have to go through another morning of Jimmy faking a stomache.  Shoe, please stay here!  Finally, I thought that the shoe read my mind because it stopped moving.

It wasn’t until Sonam returned to school that I learned why I kept finding the shoe on the floor.  Some of our coworkers narrated to Sonam how I was running around the courtyard dangling a little black shoe and how the shoe kept moving up and down in the staff room.  She thought that the story was hysterical and decided to let me in on the staff’s interpretation of me and the little black shoe. 

The little black shoe
She said one staff member told her how he witnessed it all; someone would walk in the staff room and immediately spot the shoe on the bookshelf and say, “Why is this shoe up so high?” and put it on the floor.  Then I would come rushing in looking puzzled at why the shoe was now on the floor and put the shoe back on the bookshelf.  He said that this went on all morning and finally by afternoon they were all whispering that I must have considered the shoe to be very important or holy in order for me to keep putting it up so high.  Thus, they stopped moving it to the floor.   

It all made sense when Sonam explained that Buddhists would never put a shoe up high because shoes are dirty and in Buddhism you only put holy or clean things up high.  Most importantly, there were many history textbooks containing Buddhist scriptures that were around my desk and Buddhists would never put a shoe above Buddhist texts/scriptures because the scripture is sacred/respected.  In fact, not only is every single word considered holy, but every single letter is also holy and valued.   Furthermore, Buddhists would rarely put anything above the text let alone a dirty shoe.  Therefore, my coworkers didn’t understand why I was putting the shoe on the bookshelf.  They concluded that the shoe must have had a very special meaning to me in order for me to be placing it respectfully above the ground and above Buddhist scripture. 

Dangling shoe (inside staff quarters)
Sonam chuckled when she heard the story because she knew that the shoe had no special meaning to me other than I didn’t want to lose it and re-experience Jimmy faking a stomachache.  She explained to my coworkers that I didn’t know any better and to please excuse my error because I was just trying to keep Jimmy’s shoe safe.  

When she told me this we found some humor in how silly I must have appeared to everyone running around all morning with the shoe treating it like gold.  I felt very fortunate that I had Sonam as a friend to educate me and to giggle with about my naive mistakes.  I also felt very grateful that the staff understood that as a foreigner I'm constantly learning about their customs and that I would never intentionally do anything to be disrespectful.  So once again I learned a valuable lesson on a Buddhist custom:  Don’t place shoes or unholy items up high, especially above Buddhist scripture.  


  1. It is a terrible experience to go to school with a missing school uniform. It is even more frightening when we substitute any school uniform and attend the morning assembly.
    I can completely understand little Jimmy's excuse. It is torturing sometimes!

  2. Cute and funny story about the missing shoe.It must be very important for students to be dressed in full uniforms.Hopefully he will not lose his shoe again.And the fake tummy ache, quite the actor made me laugh!

    1. He is the best actor I have ever met. I have so many stories of him pulling a fast one on me and me freaking out because I think that he dying of something haha. Love it!

  3. That is so funny I laughed through out the story Jimmy is so adoreable.Its moments like this that touch your heart.The little guy was worried about his shoe and it is a seriou matter having a complete uniform.The stomach ache made me think of my grandkids they have pulled that on me many times and it works lol.

    1. LOL Yes it does work, especially on us softies. Haha.