Occasionally, an everyday object with no special significance starts to loom large and meaningful in a different culture, in a faraway part of the world – as if in some parallel universe. Consider plastic sandals – a kind you pick up in 99c stores all around America. This unlikely object stands as a monument on a city square in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. The small East-African country split from Ethiopia after the long civil war in 1993, yet the struggle for independence continued well into the late 90s.
“It’s what all our fighters wore,” the New York Times quoted Eritrea’s ambassador to the US, who had a pair of sandals himself. “ We didn’t have uniforms. That was our uniform, and it became a symbol of our independence.” Machines for making sandals (“shida”) were set up near the front. Whenever a strap of a shida broke, it could be quickly fixed with a small flame by melting it back together.
This Oldenburg-like monument reminds us about relativity of values we attach to objects of our daily use. Is there a giant toothpaste memorial out there, somewhere?