Sounds kind of American, doesn’t it? Shoprite is a grocery store chain in Africa. It’s the only grocery store chain, as far as I know, in Zambia.
I went shopping there with Abner for the first time when we first arrived in Zambia. Subsequent shopping needs were met primarily by Robert from the Teen Missions base in Ndola (occasionally by Abner if he had to go to town, or we’d buy some things locally from nearby farmers or from roadside stands). We’d get word to Robert via text message using Abner’s phone (though Zambia doesn’t have many phone lines in the bush, they are working hard at covering the country with cellular service and Abner could usually find a pocket of coverage where his phone would work) and he’d do our shopping and bring us our supplies when he’d come to drive us to our next rescue unit. Hearing the truck approach was like hearing the jingle of the bells on Santa’s sleigh. For the coming of Robert meant bananas, oranges, tomatoes, potoatoes, sugar, flour, margarine, oats, pasta, soda (for the “store”), green beans, onions, eggs, and MAIL!
(This is NOT a picture I took, nor is it of any of the Shoprites I shopped at. This picture is from the Shoprite website.)
I’m sure Abner and I looked like quite the curiosity when we shopped at Shoprite. Abner, a young and handsome Filipino man, and me, a middle aged white woman dressed in a chitenge over pajama pants with a slightly stained shirt to go with it. And both of us wearing big ole’ work boots. An odd and odd-looking couple, especially in the sea of brown faces. There we were, each pushing a cart down the aisles laughing hysterically (but trying to stifle it so as not to bring too much attention to ourselves!) attempting to figure out how much to buy of this or that. My first trip there was an absolute stress riot! I’d heard that the food there was expensive, but nothing really prepared me for the actual cost. How do people who make so little money afford to buy this food??? We were on a pretty strict budget by American standards. A small bag of elbow macaroni cost over two dollars. After much debate, Abner and I decided that it would take four packages of the pasta to make a main dish. We had this same discussion over and over when it came to other purchases. How many bottles of juice concentrate for a meal? How many meals would 10 kilos of rice make? How far would a can of jam go? Okay, so then, how many cans of jam should we get? Mealie meal is sort of inexpensive. How many different ways can we prepare it without having a revolt on our hands? (Turns out you can make a pretty good corn bread out of mealie meal despite its anemic appearance). Anyhow, buying food supplies that first time out was further complicated by not having any idea how much the 27 of us would be eating! We made our best guess, and laughed our way through that store and walked out with all kinds of things that I couldn’t believe were going to become meals in the coming week. I had pretty much no idea what I was doing. It was all an adventure!
The stores were very large, but there was little choice (most items only came in a single brand) and not very much consistency in availability. You may be able to get an item one week, but the following week it would not be available. Quite a challenge! Something would make it onto the grocery list and I might or might not get it. Or, I’d get whatever Robert thought was closest to what was on the list. It sure made menu planning a bit of a roulette game!
Turns out it DID take four packages of pasta to make a main dish for 27 people.
(This entry is posted for Stephanie, the lady leader leading one of the TWO Zambia Foot Washing teams this summer! Stephanie, you’re going to do GREAT! No, you can’t bring your cell phone. Abner had his as he was going straight on to Mozambique after our debrief. You’ll need to come up with a different plan for getting your order in!)