23 August 2005

The Supermarket

Prior to coming here I had no idea, whatsoever, what consumer goods would be obtainable. I’ve been in countries where anything other than the real basics was just a dream, to countries that had more than I would ever need. I didn’t know if it all would still be small neighborhood markets, or if supermarkets were readily available.

I still don’t know if there are big supermarkets all over town, but there is one within walking distance of my house. And it has more choices than I would ever have expected. I mean you can get Listerine! In three different flavors!

Maxi-Mark is right on a busy, main street. Which doesn’t really tell you much because all the streets are busy. (yes, one day I will write about the traffic.) A young woman form the office kindly took me there on my third day here.

As we approached the front doors, I noticed a driveway that appeared to lead to a side entrance. I started to turn into it when she grabbed my arm and told me that was for motorbikes only. I narrowly missed getting run over. We proceeded in through the proper entrance.

In front of us stood several, temporary promotional booths. One had loud music blaring, a young man with a microphone in a bright turquoise t-shirt, and several young women in the same colored mini-skirts. I looked at the guy with the mike, who was beckoning people to come on over. Then I noticed the lettering on his shirt; Kotex. I couldn’t possibly be the same product as in the US. I looked at my guide and said, Is that….? Yes, it was. Disco feminine hygiene products.

Past the promo area on the left, lay the check stands. I turned to go in.
“You have to check all your bags”, my friend said. Check in my purse? Is that safe?

Apparently it is, and you have no choice, so we walked over to the security alcove. I removed my wallet, handed the man my purse, he locked it in a cubby, and handed me the key. I felt sort of naked and vulnerable walking around with no bag and my money in my hand. Then again, there seemed to be security guards all over the place.

Once into the supermarket proper, I was totally amazed at what was available.
Shelves of Nivea products and shampoos, and California raisins, and imported chocolate, and just about anything one would need. I stocked up on soy milk, juice, nuts and a few other things.

We checked out and was about to retrieve my bag when I remembered I wanted a plastic tumbler. We exited through the side door, crossed that motorbike entrance and went into the house wares section of Maxi Mark. Got my stuff, went back to pick up my purse, and finally on the road to home.

Thank goodness I was with someone who knew the way. We had to turn right off the main drag onto a little alley, then right again into another alley, then left, then right, or something like that. These tiny back streets are filled with makeshift carts cooking up meals, and serving them on low tables surrounded by small, plastic stools. And then there are the motorbikes, bicycles, and vendors cruising through, along with the pedestrians. On either side are front entrances to houses that line the way.

Most houses are narrow and tall, and have gates that lead into an open ground floor. Just in my surrounding few blocks, I have peered through gates and seen people lying on the floor watching TV; mechanics working on motorcycles; a fishing rod repair shop; and my favorite, the beauty parlor that doubles as a butcher shop in the mornings.

I really enjoy the back alley atmosphere. People sit around, eat, talk, relax. I smile at everyone I pass, and they smile back. Kids often run up to say “Hello”, and anything else they know in English. I would like to spend an hour or so just meandering these back byways, but I will have to do it when I know I have the time to get really and totally lost, which I will undoubtedly do, and which is why I haven’t yet tried a different route home. I am just very proud of the fact that it only took two escorted trips for me to nail the route to Maxi-Mark and home!

Happy Shopping,