Tuesday, March 4, 2008

the grocery store

When I was in Dakar last week for WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament) I enjoyed all of the perks of a huge capital city swarming with other PCVs from all over the region. I ate delicious food, spoke English almost exclusively, spent hours by the pool, wore jeans (hooray!) and went out dancing at every opportunity. I guess I had underestimated how long I’ve been in country and how long it’s been since I’ve really been exposed to Americanesque decadence and choice. Aside from Rome, when I was in Italy I spent most of my vacation in our apartment, catching up on quality family friend time. I supposed I wasn’t as exposed to the same kind of abundance, or at least it didn’t freak me out as much for some reason. So I surprised myself in Dakar during a stop at the massive toubak grocery store, Casino.

I was supposed to go in and pick up a few things, toiletry items, and some lunch. I figured, “oooh, what a great chance to make something totally delicious with lots of vegetables!” But when I walked in to this grocery store (mind you it’s about half the size of the one my family shops at in America) I was totally overwhelmed. So overwhelmed in fact, that all I could do was wander around in circles and stare wide-eyed at all of the choices, and products, and delicious food, and the concise organization of it all. I walked up and down the aisles in a state of total disbelief. They even had a proper public bathroom! Thirty minutes later, after perusing every aisle at least twice, I walked out of the grocery store empty-handed. I couldn’t even buy anything! It was like total sensory overload! I couldn’t even get it together to choose a type of bread, or cheese, or decide if I wanted a sandwich, or cereal, or yogurt, or ice cream or or or…

Looking back now I’m kicking myself for not getting a grip and enjoying a delicious toubak meal while I had the chance, but it was way too much for one PCV to handle! I mean they had 3 kinds of smoked salmon for crying out loud! And the razors…I mean a razor is a razor right? It cuts hair. Is one really that much better than another? There were gender specific designs, triple blades, double blades, single blades, 5-packs, 10 packs, individuals, ones with aloe vera strips, double strips, super softening strips, disposable, or ones that took disposable blades, battery-operated vibrating razors, rubber grip, plastic grip, Bic brand, generic brand….

I never did go back in. I couldn’t. I needed someone to go and make the decisions for me.

I told my mom about it and she laughed and said I was just like our Romanian friends who came to visit America immediately following the fall of the Iron Curtain. I mean clearly they had had much less exposure to choice than I have in my life, but now I can at least appreciate why they were so shocked and why the women wept during their first visit to an American grocery store.

Because there just aren’t choices here. Everyone sells the exact same kind of powdered milk, instant coffee, vegetables, the same 3 kinds of soda, the ubiquitous Biskrem cookies, and the list goes on.

Because of this little episode, I’m anticipating the total basket case I will become during my first visit to our beloved Nugget Market when I’m home over the summer. If you’re lucky enough to see it, you might find me wandering the aisles muttering to myself, picking things up off the shelf only to put them back down again. That, or I’ll end up with a basket full of random combinations of food like cereal and brussel sprouts, or ketchup and ice cream, canned cheese and laundry detergent, food supplements and greeting cards, or just mountains of produce.

So next time you’re in a Safeway, or the Nugget, or Albertson’s, or Price Chopper, take a minute to look around at the condiment aisle, or the frozen food section (Ha! Imagine…having so much food you have to freeze it to keep it fresh! Amazing!) and picture what it would be like to have all of that taken away for a year and then step back into it unprepared, without a list, or a friend to keep you focused. I think you would’ve left Casino empty-handed too.

That, or maybe you’d still be wandering the aisles asking, “why are there so many kinds of soap?”
I definitely don’t have a good answer for that one.

1 comment:

EllenJulia said...

I have a hard time dealing with stores in the first place (too much stuff to look at!), I think my head would explode...