As I set out for the grocery store today, I found myself more aware of how different all this is from what I used to do. Somewhere, in my distant past, I’d get up early, like at 5:30 or 6, push my garage door opener, hop in our minivan, and drive five minutes to our local Walmart so that I could get the grocery shopping done before breakfast.
Not here. Instead I wait until afternoon. The shops don’t open until 10 a.m., and by then we’re deep into our homeschool day. So I wait until I’m not needed around home as a teacher. Then I walk through the hot midday sun a couple of blocks up the dusty street where I wait for an available taxi. The taxi I took today was a nice minivan-ish sort of vehicle.
It’s a ten-minute ride to the store, and eight minutes into the ride, the driver mumbled something I didn’t fully understand and pulled to the side of the road. He then said another phrase, and I finally understood. It was time for a pit-stop. “Okay-lang!” I said. There’s no way that I’m going to put up a fuss about the call of nature. He hopped out, and walked somewhere behind the taxi, off to the side of the road, I presume, to do his business. Not that I was watching. That’s just the normal taxi-driver routine ‘round these parts. I restrained a chuckle when he climbed back in the taxi and pulled a filthy rag out of the glove compartment with which he meticulously wiped his hands.
Back in the US, I’d pull into the quiet Walmart parking lot, hop out of my van, dart through the doors and grab a huge cart. Not here. Instead I hop out of the taxi at a busy mall. Yes, a mall. That’s where all the grocery stores are. I run up the stairs while I zip open my purse for the guard at the door to peek inside, and I pause for her to pat my backside, presumably checking to see that I’m not armed. Then I wend my way through the mall, down a narrow stair case and through vendor’s stalls where the mixed pungency of lots of people, durian, and fried squid greets me, until I reach the grocery area.
A guard stands at this entrance too, making sure I don’t bring any other packages into the store, like the computer paper I stopped to buy at the mall’s bookstore on the way in. He sends me to take that package of paper back outside to a package holding area before going through another guard check to get back in the mall to go to the grocery store. That done, I grab a small-ish cart and begin my shopping.
In the US, I’d sail down the wide aisles of Walmart, finding every item on my list, shopping all the sales. Not here. Sales are virtually unknown. Except for the one rack of imported goods that have reached their expiration date. But who cares about expiration dates? I can find some great deals there…like a rare box of crackers for 80 cents, and diet lemonade mix for 50 cents, and here’s a box of granola for two dollars! Yay! Availability is always hit or miss. Today there’s no packaged meat that I recognize. There’s also no vanilla flavoring, no cream cheese, and no dried legumes besides lentils. I haven’t seen cheese for weeks. Oh! But look! They have IBC ROOTBEER!!! Amazing! One precious bottle goes in the cart as a surprise gift for Mark on Father’s Day. (Don’t tell!)
Sigh. No carrots in the produce section today, and no red tomatoes. I’m so spoiled to even expect those things. But the red papaya looks great! I check the pasta bag for bugs, side step the cockroach in the aisle, and pretend not to see the mouse that just darted under the produce shelf.
It’s time to check out. At Walmart I’d load the groceries onto the automatic belt, swipe my debit card and walk away in a few minutes with bagged groceries, extra cash, and all with the help of just one employee. Not here.
I load the groceries onto the belt, but it may or may not work. So I push food up toward the checker as she tallies my items. I hand her my Visa card, and she carries it off to the next register, where there’s a card machine. After a few minutes she comes back to hand me a receipt in duplicate to sign. Then she writes down my Visa number on a recycled piece of paper that is at the checkout presumably for that purpose. That feels just a little sinister, but we haven’t had any Visa problems as a result…yet.
Meanwhile at least one, sometimes up to four other employees help to bag my groceries. One saunters off to get a cart for my bags (the cart I used for shopping doesn’t fit through the narrow checkout lane to the other side) while another leaves to check a price for the cashier. Two more are loading my purchases into sturdy bags, talking and laughing together about the strange items I’ve bought. I’m glad I can bring some smiles to their day.
It’s finally time to go. Back at Walmart I might have stopped at McDonald’s for a coffee on my way out the door, then smoothly pushed my cart straight to my van, where I’d load the bags in the roomy trunk, ditch the cart in its corral, and be home in another five minutes.
Not here. Here I have another couple of stops to make. I need bacon, so I go down the mall a couple of doors to the bakery. Yes, this is where I can find bacon. And sometimes deli ham, too. I also grab a loaf or two of French bread. I check out, and the cashier doesn’t have change for a 500 peso bill (worth just over $10), so I give her the last 3 hundreds I have, first making sure that I have enough small bills for taxi fare home. Then I head back down the mall to the meat store, since I couldn’t find meat in the grocery. Only to find that the meat store is closed for renovation. Wasn’t it closed last year at this time for renovation?!? No meat. Oh well. Meat’s over-rated anyway.
Before I head out the door I grab a 10 peso coin from my wallet – I want to be prepared to tip the porter who always loads my groceries into the taxi. He looks like he could really use the extra money. I head toward the exit where yet another guard checks my receipt. The porter hurries over to usher my cart toward a cab, where he pops open the front door and loads my bags inside. I slip him the tip, hop in, and I’m on my way home. In the taxi, I text a family member to let them know I’m coming, since I’ll need help when I arrive to unload the groceries at the gate so the taxi can be on its way.
Yes, this is a little different than what I used to do. But I have it so very good. Plenty of food, provision from God to feed our family. I have fully stocked shelves with more than we need. How many people are praying each day for their daily food, and mine is so easily obtained? May I not forget God’s goodness in all of my plenty.