Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Life Without Walmart

In Austin we lived a mile away from a Walmart Superstore. We were quite used to hopping in the car and driving to Walmart for everything from rotisserie chicken to gasoline.

As you can imagine, shopping in rural Zambia is a bit more challenging. A trip to Kalomo for weekly grocery shopping goes something like this. We start out in the Land Rover. Before we get off the mission property, we begin picking up passengers along the road. By the time we've gone a mile, the Land Rover is full. The four-mile trip into Kalomo is on a road that was last maintained during the Reagan presidency, so we bump and jolt along in the dust. We drop our riders off and make our first stop at the post office to pick up our mail. Then it's on to Standard Sales, the Kalomo equivalent of Sam's. That's where we buy our cooking oil, sugar, soap, and boxes of milk in bulk. The checkout process involves one clerk writing out each item and its price in a sales book complete with carbon paper. Then I take the slip to the other end of the counter and pay. The clerk there stamps the sales slip and I take it back down the counter to the first clerk and pick up my goods. Next stop is Choma Milling Company to buy mealie meal in a 50-pound bag. Sometimes there is another stop to find whatever Standard Sales was out of. Then we head to ChiChi hardware for things like nails, twine, and, yes, greeting cards! The produce stand is next, and there I select fresh vegetables, fruit, and eggs when they're available. There are two produce stands across the street from each other, so I usually visit both to get the best selection and price. Last stop is the filling station for the rest of the groceries we need. This store goes by various names, but we tend to call it the BP because it once was a BP station. It's the closest thing Kalomo has to a super market, and it is the size of a very small convenience store in the US. They carry frozen meats, some fresh produce, a few canned goods, and other basic groceries. The prices are outrageous, as one expects in a convenience store, but there is no other place to get most of the items, so I gulp and pay. I can also have them charge to my account. The account book is a school type notebook with Big Chief tablet paper in it. Our name is at the top of a page near the back of the book. The clerk will add up what I've bought and write the total amount of the purchase in the book. Every few weeks I make sure the account is paid up.

Groceries bought, we head for home. We pick up riders along the way and again end up with a full vehicle for the trip back to Namwianga. Sometimes we have their purchases loaded on top of the Land Rover to make room inside for the passengers. We drop off the riders at various spots and then unload our things at home. The process has taken at least two hours and involved stopping at four or five different stores, plus all the stops along the way to pick up and let off passengers. It's not much like Walmart, but it's a whole lot more interesting!


Mary Ann Melton said...

From our travels, I can picture the road and even the small stores from your great description. What I find amazing is that in your Land Rover you can fit all those passengers plus what you needed from the store. (If it were me, I'd get home with mashed bread!) And what an interesting shopping list - certainly not what you would be buying at the Wal-Mart or the HEB.

Ginger said...

WOW! I will truly appreciate every trip to Wal-Mart now!