I wanted to buy my husband an original gift when I was in Tanzania a few years ago. The Maasai sandal had already caught my eye. Durable, unique, recycled and practical -- just what I needed. As luck would have it, a Maasai cattle auction was taking place in a small town on the way to the Ngorongoro Crater -- the perfect spot to get a pair of authentic sandals made. Luckily, there was no lack of 6 ft 2" men around to point to and indicate the approximate size twelve-ish sandal I needed.
My first step was to decide on using a fresh motorcycle tire as the sandal base, or a used tire. Since money was obviously no object (this was a gift for my husband after all) I opted for the $5 new motorcycle tread. I estimated that they would begin to wear out after about ten years. Next came the style of strap. Criss-crossed leather pieces, strap at the back, strap around the toes - the choice was mine as each pair is custom made. I opted for what I saw around me, a basic style, not too fussy.
And my final decision: should the nails used to attach the straps be bent to avoid stabbing, or kept straight so my husband could adjust for the perfect fit? Those carpet tacks are awfully sharp. I chose safety and figured his foot would have to adjust. The "foot adjustment" concept was looking increasingly tricky as I realized a US foot is unlikely to handle a curved, solid piece of rubber quite as adeptly as the foot belonging to a Maasai warrior. Regardless, my custom order was given with lots of help from amused looking cattle and a few curious Maasai onlookers.
Within 15 minutes, my sandals were ready, packed in a blue plastic bag and ready to travel to New York. Upon arrival and presentation, the sandals were briefly put to use, but are now ready to be nailed into a wall as decoration. What a shame. I think they looked very stylish. And here's a fun fact: since the front and back of the sandal are cut the same (straight across), there's no telling what direction a Maasai man has come from or is going to - the footprint doesn't give it away. Very handy for rustling cattle or sneaking up on a neighbor...
Want to see how the Maasai sandals were made? Here's a short video I took.
All images © Anouk Zijlma