About every two weeks we travel downtown for groceries. It is always an adventure! Driving downtown with all the pedestrians, motorcycles, and unorganized chaos is a sight to see! You have to have eyes around your head to keep track of the motorcycles weaving in and out. This week I drove downtown for the first time! That was a big step! We are always thankful when we can find a spot to park with plenty of space to get in and out.
Our minds are prepared for the next scene: the street kids. Usually, the first one that reaches us asks us if he can wash our car to make some money. As we begin to cross the road to the other side, we must always be alert to the possibility of getting hit by a motorcycle. As we approach the store more street kids recognize us (it’s not too hard!) and start asking us for Corn Flakes because they know we usually buy several boxes for them to share. Sometimes the “street mom” steps into the picture too and lets her requests be known before we actually get into the store. Next, the ladies sitting by the door selling fresh vegetables beckon and wave for us to come buy something!
Ah! We have made it inside! We grab a basket or two and start looking for some things that we need. Sometimes we have a choice between two brands, but often there is only one available, such is the case with butter, cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, and sausage. I am always especially excited when there is cream cheese and sour cream since they don’t always have those! The stores downtown are small and narrow so we climb ladders to reach some items high up on the shelves. The “frozen section” consists of two or three chest freezers that you open to see what is available. We have to visit two or three stores to find the things on our list! Last week we were looking for plastic forks and spoons and one store sold only forks while the next sold only spoons! We have discovered if there is no price on something you cannot buy it. Why do they even put it on the shelf?
When you are finished shopping, one of the workers will announce all the prices to the cashier and after paying, another employee will box up and carry all your purchases to your car! That is when the street boys and other beggars will mob us again! We are ready to hand them the Corn Flakes cereal and sometimes we buy packages of crackers to hand out. Some come up to us that don’t have an arm or hobble on only one leg and we try to be prepared with small coins (5 gourdes) on our pocket to pass out.
There is one larger (but more expensive) store between our home and downtown that we affectionately call “Walmart.” The aisles are wider there and they have registers similar to the States. There are more choices there in some things and they have more items in general. That store always has a guard at the front with a long-barreled rifle that we had to get used to. This is a very common sight at gas stations and banks.
Buying meat is another story. That requires a separate stop. There is a store near the outside market where chicken legs are sold in a 22 or 40 lb. boxes, whatever they have available at that time. Fresh beef is brought to our home by the pound and it gets cut it up and most of it is grinded into ground beef. It is my least favorite thing to do! Small amounts of beef can be purchased in the store but it is much more expensive.
When any one of us travel downtown we often ask other missionaries what we can pick up for them. This is such a help and keeps unnecessary trips to a minimum. There are times that I can hop a ride with someone too. All in all, it is always interesting to go shopping here and you have to be prepared to substitute or go without when something isn’t available!