Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Sudanese Ingenuity in Hard Times | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Mohamed Abkar’s workshop transforms tires into shoes in Khartoum. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Mohamed Abkar's workshop transforms tires into shoes in Khartoum. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Mohamed Abkar’s workshop transforms tires into shoes in Khartoum. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Khartoum, Asharq Al-Awsat—In Sudan, car tires have multiple uses. These rubber rings are employed during riots when they are burned by protesters to block the traffic; or they are used to prop up washtubs by women; poor children turn them into toys to be rolled from one place to another, or they act as a buffer to prevent passing cars from smashing the walls of fragile mud houses.

However, the most popular use for old tires in Sudan is the recycling of the rubber into extremely durable and cheap sandals, though they may not be the most stylish or comfortable footwear around.

To underscore the durability of these sandals, the Sudanese have dubbed them “Tmout Tekhalee”, translated as: Take them off only when you die. Mohamed Abkar, a local cobbler known for manufacturing the Tmout Tekhalee shoes, has a workshop full of used tires, innovative sharp cutting machines and adhesives.

Abkar uses these instruments of his own creation to transform a used tire into the affordable shoes. “As you can see, this pair of shoes is low-priced because all we have to do is collect used tires and cut them into specific sizes, and the end product is a durable, cheap pair of shoes,” Abkar said.

Tmout Tekhalee have long been viewed as the shoes of the poor. For a while sales of the sandals dwindled after the nation’s oil wealth improved the standard of living for many Sudanese, but following the independence of oil-rich South Sudan, rising poverty pushed many to rely once again on the hardwearing sandals. Although many are ashamed to don the shoes, they cannot afford the leather equivalents.

A pair of Abkar’s shoes costs 15 Sudanese pounds, that is 2 US dollars.

“The misfortune of some people is an advantage to others,” says Abkar, in reference to the recent upsurge in his business. He explains that his trade was unmarketable during the good times, “yet, in view of the country’s [current] deplorable situation, people returned to these shoes, and specialized shops opened again. In the past, I could count the number of my customers on one hand, but now I can count them on the fingers of my two hands, thank God.”

It seems the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” rings especially true in the Sudanese case.