It was time to take the plunge. We had survived our first few days of missionary life with fruit, bread, and miscellany from various roadside vendors, but I couldn’t delay it any longer. I had to go shopping.
At first sight, everything in the store looked normal. The employees wore matching blue aprons, the different departments were clearly recognizable, and the shelves were stocked in a reasonably organized manner.
And then I reached for a cart. It seemed entirely too small to hold a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four. And there was no seat for my squirming toddler. No seat! That didn’t add up. One hand for the cart, one hand for Lara…how would I check things off my list? I can deal with it, I told myself. I planted Lara on my hip and gave her the list. Then, grabbing the cart handle a little to the right of the middle to compensate for the crooked wheels, we were off to the dairy section.
Eggs. Trays of them, stacked one on top of the other. Not a carton in sight. Was I meant to put my eggs in one of these plastic bags? I picked one up and glanced around. Nobody was pointing and laughing at me, so I counted out a dozen dirty eggs, flicking off bits of straw and placing them gently in the little blue bag.
Cheese. There were no pre-packaged, labelled blocks waiting on the shelf. Just a dairy case filled with huge blocks and wheels and logs that somewhat resembled cheese. I didn’t recognize any of the names on the little cards. No cheddar. No mozzarella. Cheese suddenly became a lower priority.
I consulted the wrinkled paper in Lara’s fist. Vegetables. After zigzagging the cart to the produce area, I surveyed the selection. Some of the items looked completely unfamiliar to me, and others were quite repulsive in their over-ripeness. A boy in a blue apron asked me a question. I pointed to the green peppers.
“Sinte keelo?” asked the boy.
I held up three fingers. I’d buy more later if they tasted okay. The boy started throwing peppers into a bag. My eyes widened as he got further and further past three. Finally he put them on a scale, threw a few back into the bin, and scribbled a number on the bag. Apparently I had requested three kilograms of peppers. I can deal with it. I pointed to the carrots and held up one finger. That seemed like a more reasonable amount.
I retrieved my list from Lara’s mouth and tried to decipher the smeared ink. Meat. I elbowed the stubborn cart in that direction. A man wearing a bloodied apron and holding a very large cleaver guarded the counter. With one glance at the half-carcasses lying across the butcher’s block behind him, I smiled and said, “We’re vegetarians.” Now. Good thing we had lots of peppers.
The list was a mushy wad by this point, so I shoved it in my purse and yanked the cart around the corner. Cereal. There was a wide selection: Corn Flakes, Flakes of Corn, Flakey Bits O’ Corn, Corny Bits O’ Flake, and Choco Sugar Balls. I opted for the Corn Flakes, despite the suspiciously misspelled brand name. The kids could deal with that.
The next aisle consisted of unlabelled clear plastic bags full of what appeared to be baking supplies. I picked what I hoped was flour and white sugar. For all I knew, it could have been corn starch and salt, but I took my chances.
Next I came upon the canned goods. Tuna! We could eat meat after all. I tossed four cans into the cart, belatedly remembering my bag of eggs. Only two of them broke. I could deal with that.
Lara gave up squeezing my hip with her legs and started to slide towards the floor. I held her tight against me and threw my other hip against the cart to get it moving again. At the check-out, I disguised my grimace in a polite smile while the cashier scrutinized my broken eggs, the huge bag of peppers and my dangling daughter. I held myself together long enough to get home and put everything away. Then I put a video on for Lara and collapsed on the couch.
My husband came home shortly thereafter and asked what was for dinner.
“Green peppers, Corn Flakes and tuna. Deal with it.”
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