Tales & images from life as me…

TIA Tales – Doing the shopping


For those of you who are readers from the first world, ‘doing the shopping’ – that repetitive task of buying groceries and household requirements – might be perceived as a chore. Well, sorry guys but when I come home to the UK it’s a treat to go to a supermarket! You are so lucky! You might think it’s nuts that I get all excited and overwhelmed by the aisles and aisles of choices all under one roof. And don’t even get me started on those amazing delis, bakeries and little specialist shops you guys have scattered along your high streets!

But, you see, where I live, it just isn’t all that simple. This is how it goes…

In town there is one small supermarket. It does stock quite a bit but things like cheese (other than cheddar), good chocolate, good quality meats, lettuce, butternut squash … hang on, who am I kidding. They have shelves. And freezers. There’s no meat counter, they don’t sell veg at all. If they do get imported goods in they sell out and don’t re-order for another 6 months and most of the time it’s pretty inconsistent. It’s not bad, but it is expensive and it’s not very big. There are other supermarkets but they all sell the same stuff – nothing imported, and very little that’s refrigerated or frozen – so it’s easier to go to the one we know.

OK, so that leaves us still needing quite a few things… Fruit and veg for a start. So – next stop is the market. It’s an amazing place to spend a couple of hours wandering and chatting to people. Colours, sounds and smells will fill your head and there are choices as far as the eye can see…BUT you don’t usually have a couple of hours to wander and when you’ve been asked for the 50th time if you want bananas, had it pointed out that you are white hundreds of times and realised that mangoes are out of season, the tomato crop that day isn’t great and you can’t find mushrooms or red peppers for love nor money – you do start to lose your sense of humour. And if you’re not careful you can easily lose yourself too – it’s a big place and it’s easy to pop out in a spot you’ve never seen before!

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It’s also likely you’ll be hounded by a string of young boys trying to sell you plastic bags and carry your shopping. I love these guys, but they don’t understand the word ‘no’ whatever language you use! You might well want the help of one or even two of them but can’t possibly hire them all.

Anyway, I’ve now done battle in the market. It’s over 30 degrees and I’m stinky and dusty and have a car loaded with supermarket stuff that’s rapidly going off. But I still need to take care of the cats and dogs. We don’t have tins of whiskers meat so it’s fish and rice for the cats and meat and rice for the dogs. Rice can be taken care of in the market but for the best price on meat I need to head an hour out of town to the stinkiest place you have ever smelled – the meat market.

I actually don’t mind coming here too much as everyone is always so lovely and welcoming, but it’s quite a drive and requires me to bring a big cool box which I unload and then select various unidentifiable parts of goat to fill it with, bargaining over the price for every piece.

The fish comes in the form of a tiny little one called dagaa and looks a little bit like white bait. If you thought the meat market smelled bad – this is incredible! It’s a great source of vitamins etc and comes from Lake Victoria so is found in abundance here. Most Tanzanians love it. It makes me want to throw up.
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Oh and then I also need to buy the chicken. This requires a visit to a little shop on my way home which is full of nothing but frozen chicken. And then my last stop is the egg shop, not far from our house. These two are actually the simplest part of the whole excursion, but imagine going to one shop for one item and another for another. It takes forever.

OK – so we’re around 7 hours into our shopping trip now! That’s on a good day – assuming I haven’t been stopped by police or caught out by ATM machines that don’t work. I’ve achieved literally nothing else all day and when I finally make it home I realise we also would really like some fish for us to eat (not dagaa). Some salmon, trout or cod perhaps?

Well, whilst there is a small fish shop that imports frozen prawns, and sea fish in from the other side of the country (and I could pop there, indeed I sometimes do) they don’t sell salmon or cod or trout. For these I must head to Nairobi! That’s a nine hour drive, or a 2 hour flight! I also would want to get some good quality beef, lamb and pork while I’m there.

We buy it in bulk and freeze it in small packages, and then pack the car in cool boxes. This is generally pretty effective – apart from one time when Damien had a flat tyre and had to offload everything in order to jack up the car… unfortunately he was in the middle of the Serengeti and had just passed a large pride of lions only a few kilometers earlier!

We might also go to Dar es Salaam (another 2hr flight or two day drive). There we’d buy Thai, Mexican, Italian and American imported goods, as well as croissants, cheeses and strawberries or raspberries. Great treats, but sadly things we generally must live without.

You’re beginning to get the picture, right?!

In my phone I keep a Dar list, and a Nairobi list. In the kitchen I keep a whiteboard with a market list and a supermarket list. In my ipad I keep track of all potential opportunities to shop that could come up on the calendar because Damien has to go somewhere for a meeting or a conference or we are off to see family. It’s a juggling act that often results in failure!

So next time you go shopping (if you’re a reader outside Mwanza) – enjoy it and think of me! Mwanza readers who have to go to work for fixed hours every day and don’t actually have 7 hours to complete the weekly shop – I salute you! How do we not all starve to death?! Oh – yeah – curry!!

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7 responses

  1. umm yeah i get where you’re coming from, but having a brilliant bbq outside with friends in the middle of winter isn’t something you can do here (Scotland) and Whisky is cheaper to buy in Tanzania than here and we produce the stuff!!! But yeah I’m going to make a yummy cheesecake here, and I bought all the ingrediants in 5 minutes from a shop 2 minutes walk away which I couldn’t do in Mwanza. Talk soon

    January 29, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    • ha ha – thanks for reiterating the fact that there are pros and cons to everything!

      February 4, 2013 at 11:31 am

  2. lol… I think I actually miss certain bits of this! I now live opposite a little supermarket where you can buy most things (including goat cheese!!) and Carrefour is near my workplace (I must have been 4 times in 6 months). I can still go to the market and I do sometimes mainly to remind me of my Mwanza days and Kirumba market!
    Miss you xxx

    January 30, 2013 at 7:38 am

    • It’s funny what you miss, isn’t it! ooh goat’s cheese would be lovely though! Miss you too. Hope the new job is working out. Good luck with it all. hugs to beautiful babies and the lovely Mecky xx

      February 4, 2013 at 11:34 am

  3. Hilly

    Loved this, Mel. I can still see the ‘supermarket’, in my mind’s eye and the funniest part was waiting to pay for the goods whilst they totted them up, one by one, on a calculator.
    Hillyx

    February 3, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    • ah yes – calculators can’t record for the tax man, all very convenient that we are so behind the times!!

      February 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

  4. stuart

    aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh , memories and now I am spoilt for choice , i could always send you a red cross parcel

    February 5, 2013 at 12:47 am

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