Monday, October 17, 2011

The Supermarket

One of the most popular supermarkets for expats ... Lucky Supermarket

I miss the commissary.

Back in Egypt, one of the privileges that we “embassy people” had was access to the commissary. I admit that I allowed myself to become lazy because of the commissary. I rarely shopped for groceries on the local market. Not even fresh produce. Sure, I could get fresher produce from local vendors, but it was just so easy to buy everything at the commissary. I could get almost anything that I could get in the States, for prices that were similar to—in some cases, lower than—what I’d pay in the States. But even as I lazily shopped the easy way, I wondered … what would it be like to shop like the other expats, the ones without commissary privileges, the ones who go to multiple shops, pay high prices, make substitutions, and do without?

Now I’m learning.

And I miss the commissary.

Our sponsor took us to Lucky Supermarket today to stock up on groceries. She had done some shopping for us before we arrived, but I only requested enough food to get us through a few days. Yesterday I planned my weekly menu and made the grocery list off of it, then added on all the non-grocery items that I’d realized we needed (dish soap, anyone?). By the time I was done, it was a massive list. This afternoon, as my sponsor pulled up, I eyed her SUV and wondered, with the third row seating up, if all my planned purchases would fit.

Dish detergent
I won’t go into lots of details about the experience. Frankly, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t go into a lot of details if I tried. The store was crowded, the shelves were packed, and I didn’t recognize half of the items. And I found only about 75% of the items on my list. Some of them probably were right in front of me as I stared uncomprehendingly at the squiggly lines (Khmer script, or in some cases maybe Japanese script) and tried to reason out from the pictures what exactly I was looking at. It took me a while to recognize the dish soap—it looked like toilet bowl cleaner. And the toilet bowl cleaner looked like … I’m not sure what, but not toilet bowl cleaner. And some of the prices really made me appreciate the COLA (cost of living adjustment—an increase in pay based on the cost of living, assuming the maintenance of a western lifestyle at post). I mean, really, two and a half dollars for a can of tuna?
Toilet cleaner

We were in there for around 90 minutes. We spent over $200. By the time we left, I knew there were items on my list that I probably could find if I made one more lap around the store. But our tiny grocery cart was full to overflowing, and Alexa alternately was throwing things out of it and throwing things into it, my mind was overwhelmed, my feet were sore, and I was done.

I will get used to this. I will learn to go to the fish market for fresh fish, the vegetable market for fresh produce, and Lucky or one of the other supermarkets for western products. I will learn to adjust my recipes to do without items that are unavailable or that are prohibitively expensive. And I will thank God and the U.S. government for my consumables shipment and for my APO privileges (hello,, my trusty old friend!).

But for now, I just miss the commissary.

Written Saturday, 8 October 2011.

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