Thursday, September 18, 2014

Missionary Fairyland Grocery-ville

I want to take you on a trip. (Don't you just love adventures?)

There is a quaint little shopping spot called Missionary Fairyland Grocery-ville. It's a place made especially for missionary women. Today, I got special permission for anyone (missionaries or just friends of missionaries) to take a tour.

You can drive right up, and parking is always available. Isn't that lovely? You walk in the door and are immediately greeted with two happy things... a smiling door greeter and air conditioning.

As the door greeter hands you a basket, she asks if you need any help, and you respond, "No, thank you." Then you continue down the well-labelled aisles to find the items you need.

Oooohhh! A sale on your favorite items! Within minutes, you maneuver down the spacious aisles and find everything you need. You pile your treasures onto the checkout counter with ease because there was no line. The cashier smiles and greets you politely. She rings up each item as she chats with you. Then she gives you the total. She bags your items as you pull out your wallet. You pay and head on your way. You get home and whip together a fabulous meal with all the perfect ingredients. ***insert happy sigh, pink bunnies, and rainbows***

Back to Reality-ville.

Our favorite seasoning... TexJoy Steak Seasoning.
We bring it from the States.

Missionary women need prayer! This area of shopping and cooking? It's no picnic for many of us. Let me give you a more realistic scenario.

You get up early to beat the traffic to the store, but find that parking is still a nightmare. In a city of 5 million people, 20 parking spaces is not enough. Thankfully, you chose to take the scooter and find a tiny spot to squeeze into for parking.

Now, you head inside. You grab a cart on your way in as you pass a security guard at the door. Maneuvering down the aisles is taxing. Boxes and stacks of items block the narrow path. You stop at the cereal aisle. Cornflakes. Strawberry cornflakes... banana cornflakes... mango cornflakes... honey cornflakes... almond cornflakes... You were so desperately hoping for something different this week. Then you spot it. Something similar to Fruit Loops! It isn't Fruit Loops brand, but you don't care! Then you see the price... $4.50. You would never pay that much for Fruit Loops in the States, but just to have a break from cornflakes makes every penny seem worth it. You promise yourself that the family will eat oatmeal for a couple of days to make up for it.

You head to the spice aisle. Everything is labelled in a foreign language. You have to rely on your sense of smell to find the seasonings you need. As you sniff away, you notice out of the corner of your eye a woman is staring at you. You look at her and smile. She just keeps staring. Then she begins inspecting the items in your cart, curious about what this foreigner buys. Then finally you can't handle it anymore. You turn and force a smile. "Hello, how are you?" Without answering, the woman walks away.

After twenty minutes of sniffing as well as being a spectacle for other shoppers, you find the spices you need and move to the next aisle. Tomato products. A shelf full of brands you do not recognize. You stare in a daze. I just want ketchup, you whisper to yourself. There are dozens of sauces you have never heard of before. You reminisce back to the stores in the States that had 14 brands of ketchup. You remember your favorite brand and sigh. Then you spot it! A brand you know! The ONLY brand of American flavored ketchup! Hunts! Not your favorite, but at least you know what it will taste like. Then you spot the price: $7.85. It is a pretty big bottle, but it's KETCHUP! It goes back on the shelf. You find some weird named ketchup that isn't spiced, made with peppers, seasoned with fish oil, or brown. You hope it will taste good. $1.35 seems more reasonable.

You weave and fight your way through the aisles: reading labels, greeting those that stare or rummage through your cart, sniffing items that you can't read, and digging through bins. Then, the power goes out. You stand still in the darkness. After seven seconds, the generator kicks on and you continue shopping. You had a list, but half the things on your list were out of stock. You will have to change your menu for meals for the week.

You get to the dairy section and find once again that cheddar cheese isn't available. It hasn't been in the store for months. So you head to the registers to check out. The lines are not too bad this time in the morning, so you only have a short wait... until people keep cutting in line in front of you. You realize that if you don't snuggle up close to the person in front of you that you will never get a turn. You get close enough to the woman in front of you that you can count the moles on her neck.

Finally, it's your turn. The cashier never looks at you, but begins working on your items. She talks to the girl beside her. Though your language skills are limited, you know she just said something about the foreigner with a huge basket of groceries. You decide to be friendly and overlook her comments. "Hello. How are you?"

She looks a little startled that you speak her language at all. She replies timidly. The girl beside her starts bagging the groceries. She does a great job of separating cleaning products from food products, but is less gentle with the bread. It is packed with the ketchup and canned goods. You pull it back out just as she is about to mutilate it. You try to explain you need another bag for the bread, and the girl argues that it fits nicely and there is plenty of room in the other bags. You cannot remember how to say, "But my bread will get squished." You simply choose to explain you need it to go to a separate place... which isn't a lie... it goes in the bread container and the other things go in the pantry. This is the best you can do with limited language skills to satisfy the girl's arguments.

You finally pay, and head outside with your grocery luggage, only to remember that you still have to find a way to get it all on the scooter and take it home. Oh, how you miss the ease of piling everything in the back of your minivan! So you begin stuffing and clipping bags everywhere you can. The parking security guard stands close by to see if you can really get all of that on a scooter. Again, you are being stared at, but you choose to just smile and keep working. Another 15 minutes pass, and you are finally on your way. You look like Santa on his sleigh, but you are just happy to be heading home...

Well, not exactly home. You still have to stop at the vegetable shop and the fruit stand. When you stop there, the prices are not marked. You will have to argue pricing. It's like going to a flea market.

You arrive home. You are drained physically and mentally from searching, reading, the cultural stress of being stared at, arguing pricing, arguing bagging techniques, making on the spot choices and substitutions, having to replan your menu while in the grocery store because of product availability, etc. A shopping trip that would take thirty minutes in the States has just taken you three hours to complete.

And this scenario doesn't include traffic stressers going to and from the stores, nor the adventure that bringing children along can create.

We need prayer for our task of shopping!

  • Products are always changing and just when we think we have found a favorite, it becomes unavailable. We have to start all over.
  • Item's we bought in the States may not be available, or may be out of our price range. Not only do we have to learn to shop differently, but we have to learn to cook and plan differently, too.
  • The shopping experience is a major source of culture stress in some places. People staring is often an issue. They are curious. In our mindset, staring is rude. It is difficult to set that aside and realize the people don't mean anything by it. Nor do they mean anything by rummaging through our carts. Privacy isn't respected in many cultures.
  • In our sending country, things were typically very convenient. In our host country, life isn't about convenience. Many things that we made in our sending country came from boxes or packets. In our host country? We have to learn to make most things from scratch!
  • When we splurge a little and buy something expensive just to have a taste of "home," we sometimes battle guilt.
  • Those of us who were extremely frugal in the States (following sales, using coupons, etc) find that our grocery bills can be a source of discouragement. We want to be good stewards, but it takes time to learn how to save money in a new country... especially when coupons do not exist and sales are rare.
But we are also learning to be thankful... more thankful than we have ever been.
  • We have literally been on the brink of tears when a new item arrives... one that reminds us of "home." Did you ever think peanut butter or cheddar cheese could make you cry?

James 1:17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
and cometh down from the Father of lights,
with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 
  • We feel an extreme sense of accomplishment when we learn to make a familiar family recipe from items available.
Proverbs 31:31  Give her of the fruit of her hands;
and let her own works praise her in the gates. 
  • We learn to substitute for items that are not available. We learn what we can really do without.
Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness;
and be content with such things as ye have:
for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. 

God's grace is sufficient.
His supply is perfect.
And His method of changing us is amazing.
Thank you for your prayers in this area.

by Charity, Southern Asia


Dee Snyder said...

Love your shopping post!! I must confess, having grown up an MK, bargaining where it is appropriate, is a "fun" activity for me. Learned well from my Daddy! But the stares do get to ya! In Cambodia, it was the stocker boys at the supermarket who spoke every little English, but would glance my way, say something to his cohort and they'd laugh. So what's so funny about a grey hair lady filling her basket?? Cause ladies there don't shop by the week but by the day-- I guess. One item we will never forget-- looking and asking for cranberry sauce. Just picture in your mind what the label would look like?? Found them stacked right next to the RED KIDNEY BEANS!!! Well, same color and little round thingies. Humour is good!

Becky said...

Thanks for your post. I've been to Egypt and Tunisia and just shopping for souvenirs is draining--shopping for a family would be very much so. I hate all the bargaining--always wondering if I'm getting the right price or if I'm being "too cheap".

I'm a missionary, but in Poland. We do have the "dream shopping" experience in that some stores have shopping and we have a basket, if you don't talk, people don't stare, and now that supermarkets are here, we aren't the only ones with full baskets, so there is less staring even with a very full basket. :)

And we can pay with a credit card! :)

But generally speaking the clerks don't say a word as they work, and you have to bag your own groceries, so if you put the bread with the milk, it's your own fault. It does make it impossible to watch the scanning to make sure the prices are right while you are bagging your own groceries, though.

Thanks again. I enjoyed it.

Becky said...

I meant that some stores have plenty of parking...

Anonymous said...

aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh such wonderful memories!!!! Thanks Charity June

HeidiAnn Geiger said...

Thanks for the trip... it's very interesting and gives me cause, again, to be thankful... :)

Angela Young said...

As a missionary wife myself, I had to laugh at the truth of this article. Although here in Russia we don't use scooters, still we can't fit the four kids and groceries in our car at the same time!

Rebecca Pattison said...

I am working on a blog post about encouraging missionaries and how to pray for them. I plan on mentioning cultural adjustments, and I was hoping you wouldn't mind if I share a link to think post. Would that be ok?!

Charity said...

Sorry I just saw your question. Yes, feel free to share a link to this blog post. :-)