Friday, March 25, 2016

A Dollar for Everyone

Shopping is actually one of my least favorite activities. I hate every kind of shopping. I hate shopping for clothes, cars, furniture, electronics, houses…you name it I hate shopping for it. Living in Monrovia has only deepened my shopping hatred. The problem with shopping in Monrovia is not selection; you can generally find anything that you need and many things that you want at one of the local ex-pat grocery stores. The trouble is the cost! It is not uncommon to find boxes of Corn Flakes with a price tag reading $9.00 and peanut butter selling for $15.00 a jar. Needless to say Amazon and I are good friends and I purchase as much as I possibly can online! Despite my abhorrence for shopping, every Saturday morning I get dressed and meet with some friends to do the weekly shopping run. As a general rule we visit two stores, ERA and Harbel's. ERA is further away and so we begin our weekly adventure there and then work our way back. The traffic usually isn’t entirely dreadful on the weekend, this means that it will take us about 20 minutes to drive through the chaos that is Monrovia on a Saturday morning.  
            When I reach the ERA I park the car (if I am driving this week), wave at the crippled man who is my self proclaimed "car guard". I’m not sure what he would do if someone actually tried to steal the car but I let him “guard” it anyway. At the door there is a bucket of water with a faucet attached to the bottom where we wash our hands with a bleach water solution. This is a product of the Ebola outbreak and you will find buckets of water outside of many establishments. There are no paper towels provided, so we shake our hands dry. We move past the security guards and into the store. 
            Once inside the ERA, we have a plan. My friends and I split up in order to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible. For me, the first stop is the deli counter. I purchase “chicken ham” for the kid’s lunches for the week. I have no idea what chicken ham actually is. We eat it and it doesn’t taste disgusting or make us sick, so I figure that is pretty much a win. I then order a pound (yes they use pounds here!) of cheese and ask them to slice it. It will take no less than 15 minutes for the deli guy to cut and package my order.He does not have an electric meat/ cheese slicer, so it takes a some time. While the deli guy diligently works on my chicken ham, I put an order in with the butcher, four pounds of ground beef and six sirloin filets, this will also take 15 minutes. I head to the fresh produce section. Here I am given a baggy from a woman who is charged with policing the fruits and veggies. Her job is to ensure the produce is properly weighed and tagged before the customer leaves the immediate area. You will not be given a new baggy for more fruits or veggies until the first baggy has been weighed and priced. Do NOT under any circumstance forget to hand her the baggy to be weighed and tagged! She takes her job seriously and will chase you down should you forget to have the bag tagged and attempt to walk off with the veg! After all of my veggies and fruits are bagged and tagged, I move to the refrigerator section to pick up some milk and eggs. Now I’m on to the cans and dried goods. There is a nice selection and I find everything that I need to cook with for the next week. At this point I make my way back over to the butcher and deli counters. The deli guy has my chicken ham and cheese waiting for me. I thank him and move over to the butcher. He gallantly places the sirloin in my basket as he says, “special meat for a special lady”. I’m not really sure if he knows how that sounds but I just smile awkwardly, like some kind of moron, and lumber toward the cash register.  
            Check out time. I push the cart to the register. I begin placing the items on the non-working belt. A man shoos me away and unloads the remaining groceries from my cart. Another man loads the checked items into white plastic shopping bags. I awkwardly stand at the register and try to look like I’m checking prices as they flash onto the computer screen, in reality I have no idea what is going on. The cashier tells me the total price for the items; I pull the money out of my purse in U.S. dollars and hand it to the her. She gives me a combination of U.S. dollars and Liberian dollars as change. I oafishly stuff the bigger bills back into my purse and then slide the small change into my pockets, Liberian dollars in the right and U.S. in the left. The bagger scoops up my groceries and moves toward the door. I walk by a security guard as the bagger pushes past people and outside. I am not sure how the bagger knows which car is mine but he moves directly toward the vehicle. I double click the automatic door opener as we approach the truck. I reach out to open the hatch but a security/ parking attendant beats me to it and pulls the hatch open. As the bagger finishes loading the car I reach into my left pocket for a dollar. I quickly pull the dollar from my pocket and press it into the baggers hand. From the front of the car the crippled “car guard” starts frantically waving in my direction. He wants his pay. I wave back and then push my hand into my right pocket for the Liberian dollars. I give him all that I have..maybe 60 LBD. I turn toward the driver’s side door but before I can open it, the parking attendant opens the door for me. He stands near door expectantly and I grope into the left pocket and pull out my last dollar. I thank him for "helping" me and satisfied he moves back to the store. My friends have also finished shopping and are now loading their groceries into the truck. They quickly tip the bagger that helped them and jump into the vehicle. The security guard helps block traffic as I maneuver into the busy street and head to the next store on my trip. I emotionally prepare myself for Harbel's as I do my best not to hit any pedestrians, tuk tuks, or other vehicles. The experience at Harbel's is much like the experience at ERA and when I finally arrive home hours later I'm completely exhausted and want nothing more than to take a nice long nap....Like that will ever happen!
Until next time friends and family!
Survival tips:
1) Know what you want before you get to the store, make a LIST!
2) Have a plan, know your store!
3) Make sure that you have small change! You will be giving a dollar to everyone! 

 Please excuse how blurry some of the pictures are. Brenden and I took them from a moving vehicle with my iPhone...;)
The rainy season is just beginning here and will last for 6 months!

This is a tub-tuk. They are everywhere and are how most people get around.

Bottled water anyone??

Freezer section and at the back is the deli.

Veggie police ;)

Dessert anyone?

Cold Drink?

Containers of water

Stumbled onto a parade on the way to Harbel's 

Watching the parade

Parking lot at Harbel's

Hand washing station. This is larger than most. 

Someone was selling alligators outside of the grocery store. 

Those are some pricey jelly beans!

Yes! I will most certainly pay $17.00 for Cheerios....NOT!

Ebola information signs are everywhere here.