Lessons from the Supermarket

Note: This is actually an old note that for whatever reason didn’t get posted. I nearly didn’t post it but with all the craziness that’s going on right now I feel it is still relevant, it still express my feelings whenever I go to a supermarket even today. So here it is. 

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Have you ever burst into tears upon seeing rows and rows of fully stacked goods in a supermarket? Last week I nearly did just that. I was already planning to do my grocery shopping after work at the supermarket near my home. But because my last class was cancelled – the student called in sick and it was a class of one – I decided to go to the one near the college instead. I just finished reading an update of the Somalia famine in the  Time Magazine during my lunch break. Then I went to the supermarket. Big mistake.

The supermarket near the college was a huge hangar style supermarket.  It has a large selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, a fully stocked meat and poultry sections, frozen goods and all the usual supermarket stuff.  Not only local brands, it also has a huge selection of imported goods, I could just as well be in the middle of Ralph’s or Star Market, and of course it is stacked full from top to bottom with assorted goodies. And I nearly cried.

I look at the rows upon rows of goodies and the pictures from the Somalia famine flashed into my mind. I go to the meat section and remembered the village, not very far from us who needs to chip in collectively for a kilo or two of meat. Here I am standing in the middle of a gleaming fresh supermarket, populated with well off shoppers, in a capital city of a developing country. A country so rich that some of its population need to save up for a year to eat meat.  Then across the continent there are people who are starving to death. Babies and infants that has no chance of survival. How could they when their mother don’t have any food? I nearly didn’t shop.

I wander around the aisles, taking in all. Sorting out my thoughts. How can one shop when others are in misery? But why should I not shop? My family certainly needs to eat. Do they need to starve too?

Then something my Quran teacher always told me came floating back, “Things happen in pairs. Bad things happen so you can appreciate the good ones.” Of course! If all you know are good stuff, good things, how can you learn to truly be thankful and grateful for all the blessing that you got? If you never got sick, how can you appreciate being healthy? How could you learn moderation when you lead a life of excess?

Yes bad things happen. Yes it sucks. No it does not mean you should break down in despair, it merely meant as a challenge to yourself. So the world is fucked up. What are you going to do about it?

I am reminded by yet another advice from a friend I nicknamed Gus. He said that you may not be able to save the world right now, but you can certainly still do something. If you can save the world, that’s great, go and do it. But if not, go save locally. Whatever it is, do something don’t just mope about feeling depressed. That’s not gonna help anything or anyone.

I took a deep breath. I can’t starve my family, what good would it do? Not to mention gross negligence like that would be criminal actually. Keywords; be grateful, be mindful. One thing at a time. I have to do grocery shopping, so do that now but be mindful, buy only what’s needed. When that’s done, be grateful and help others. And that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.

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Them, I Miss

As an expat child, I know that when I move there will be things I’ll miss. I will miss my friends, I usually miss the house (I’d like to say my house but it was never mine to begin with and that my room in Amsterdam is still the best bed room I ever had) and if it was available, the public transport (oh lijn 5, green line, come home with me!!!) and the public parks. That’s usually the case when I move cities.

Now, I’ve moved back home for good. Obviously I moved back to my parental home, I used to have a room there but because I moved around so much, my room been re-arranged, re-decorated, re-owned by various siblings, nephew, nieces, that by the time I moved back it doesn’t feel like my room anymore. I ended up using my sister’s room since my nephew and nieces claimed it as their weekend room. Yes I know I could kick them out, reclaimed my room and make them use my sister’s but somehow it was easier just for me to change rooms.

Then I got married and moved to our apartment. I miss my parents but I’m there so often anyway I don’t really miss it. I got a child, then another and soon our two-bedroom apt is cramped and full. We need to move.

So, in short we’ve moved from our apt to a somewhat larger, spacious house (it’s still not ours yet, so it’s still a house not a home). And yes, I miss our friends from the apt, we don’t bump into each other in the pool, the market, the lobby or the elevator anymore. Good thing we’re still in the same region so we bump into the local mall aka our local townsquare. But here’s some people that I didn’t think I miss; the people at the local grocery store. The neighbourhood Hero in this case.

Who’d thought they miss their local grocers? I didn’t miss any of the grocers in my previous cities. Ok maybe I miss some stores but I didn’t stay anywhere long enough to truly know the people in my neighbourhood. But I realise that the people that worked in the local Hero, they’ve known me almost as long as my husband. See, that Hero is also my mom’s local store. She goes there to do the weekly shopping and guess who’d accompany her or sent on such errands? Yours truly of course. If I’m not busy I would definitely go with her to the supermarket, its a childhood habit. If she’s busy and I’m not then she’d send me armed with a list and some notes to do her shopping. My apt is practically a stone throw away from her house so it’s really no brainer I’d continue shopping for my weekly groceries there too.

It’s a strange thing, this relationship with your friendly supermarket workers. I realise I may not know their names – but I know who works where. She’s in fruits and vegs, he’s at the meat, he’s a stacker, and then there’s the cashier gang. They see me going as a kid tagging along, as a young homemaker, pregnant with my first child, as a mom with a little baby, with a baby and a toddler in tow and finally with a toddler and very young girl. They’re with me in most stages of adulthood. And not only that, they know my mom too!

My friend once said that if you stay in a place long enough and keep going to the same public place or using the same public transportation you soon ‘know’ the people. I guess in 7+ years, going there once sometimes twice a week, that means I see them at least 60 odd times in a year! Wow.

Now that I moved and start shopping in a new place called Giant Supermarket (what is it with our local supermarkets, they have such funny names, Hero, Giant, Superindo, were the owners aspiring to be a comic book writer but thwarted by their parents? No sonny boy, no more drawing pretty pictures you must run the family company! But but… I wanna be Stan Lee) I started recognising and knowing the people who works there. Given that our house (yes, we finally own a house!) is in close proximity to my current rental, I’m fairly sure I’ll continue shopping at that local Giant for years to come. Maybe now I’ll actually know their names instead of just their faces.

Oh, one last note. I went back to my old haunt as I was in the area and whadaya know, the meat guy and the cashier greeted me like a long lost friend. They actually asked me, where have you been? I guess the feeling is mutual after all.