Friday, August 15, 2014

Plenty of baskets

One of the challenges of living in Korr is that it is a full day's drive on a road frequented by bandits to any semblance of grocery store.  There are small shops in town where you can usually buy UHT milk (in tetra packs that don't have to be refrigerated), tea, flour and sugar, and where potatoes, cabbage, and onions are hit and miss (but there's ALWAYS Coke... you just have to drink it hot!), but that's about it. Since I have neither a car nor the desire to meet any bandits, that means that I need to bring two-and-a-half to three months worth of supplies to Korr with me when I head up at the end of August.

Last time I lived in Korr, I lived with Nick and Lynne, who had 30 years of experience doing this.  They shopped and cooked, and I was - thankfully! - along for the ride. But they are nearing retirement, and short termers are now to do their own shopping and cooking - and I am happy to do so.  But for the first time, I am trying to figure out - how on EARTH do I plan for three months of food?

Oh yeah, and we have no fridge or freezer.

No problem, just go to the market each day and get what you need, right? Nope. No market... Hmmmm.

No cheese... no yogurt... no meat... no cold water............

After some time to wrap my brain around that and some great conversations with people who have even less than I do - we have an oven! (I'm told it even works, though there are conflicting reports...) - I have started to see not what we won't have, but all the possibilites for what we will.  And I'm looking forward to the challenge.

I like delicious food, so ramen and rice for three months just isn't going to fly. So... what to do?  Get creative, of course!  Enchiladas! Curry! Bean burgers! Cabbage salad! Pasta! And get used to eating things from tins. Tuna, ham, vegetables, fruit... soak the beans... bake the bread... rehydrate soy mince with beef bullion... discover that there are processed cheese slices that don't have to be refrigerated (so, so scary, I know, but... CHEESE!).  Learn that to keep something cool overnight in the desert where temps don't usually dip below about 30-35C (and daytime temps are anywhere from 40-50C!), put it in a jar, put a sock over it, and put it in a bucket of water.  Voila! Cool enough not to spoil and you can finish it off the next day.

And the most exciting thing? I'm told there is one spot on one of the shelves in the pantry that can keep REAL! LIVE! CHOCOLATE BARS! at a just cooler than 'melted puddle of goo' temperature.  Booyeah!

After making a list, checking it twice, and asking for recipes from people so nice, I made my way to Nakumatt.  This is Kenya's version of Wal-Mart, and it's fabulous.  You can buy anything from motorbikes to mushroom soup, and pretty much everything in between.  Yesterday, I made a start on my list (I seem to have ended up with copious amounts of chocolate things: chocolate, cocoa powder, chocolate cookies, chocolate UHT milk, drinking chocolate... Aren't you happy to see I have my priorities in the right place?)  I FILLED a cart to overflowing - not just with chocolate, don't worry! - and decided that that was enough for one day.

I went back today to get more of my ACTUAL food, and when one cart got so heavy I could barely push it anymore, I huffed it up to the front of the store, got another, and kept on going. Three hours and two grocery carts later, I was not finished, but was exhausted.  What? It's just grocery shopping, right? Wrong!

You know, it's really, really tiring hauling carts around the store, wondering where things are (Nakumatt uses a different logic than I would in where things are placed) so there's lots of back and forth looking for things.  And then there are the brands.  Very few are familiar, so I don't know what to look for.  You want baking soda in Canada? Go to the baking aisle and scan the shelves for the yellow and orange Arm and Hammer box. Whether you want that brand or not, you can find it easily because you know what to look for. In Kenya, it's a quarter of the size and blue. Oops, I missed it the first time.  All purpose flour - no problem, right? Look for Robin Hood, there you go.  Nope, there are umpteen different varieties and brands of flour - maize flour, chapati flour, bread flour, brown flour that's not actually whole wheat flour, baking flour... what to buy? And which brand it best? Pick the wrong one, and your bread comes out like rubber, I've been told.  And tinned peas. Some taste like peas, some taste like tin.  Which brand is which? The one you've been told is best is out of stock.  Pick a few different ones, then. If one brand is bad, at least you won't have 15 tins of the same kind!

I still have probably two more carts worth of stuff to get another day, and then comes the sorting and packing into boxes for transport.  Some will come up with me on the plane. Some (hopefully most) will go up in the truck with Jim and Laura. Some will wait in the AIM Air hangar to go up when there is more weight available for freight on another flight two, four, and/or six weeks later.  This provisioning is a steep learning curve, let me tell you!  But it's a fun kind of learning - all part of the adventure!

I'm guessing that by the time I'm done, I will have about five grocery carts full of supplies for my three months - that's definitely plenty of baskets!

But it's also baskets of plenty.

I am very conscious each time I haul a grocery cart (or carts!) through the checkout that I am privileged beyond belief.  I can just go to the store and buy what I need. Not even what I need - what I want - totally superfluously! (I may or may not have copious amounts of nutella.) 

When I talk to people about the food challenges of Korr (really, Hillary? What challenges? I have FIVE. CARTS. of food), they ask what the locals eat.  Not much, I tell them. Unless people have jobs, and very few Rendille do, the local diet is mostly camel's milk, a sort of thin maize-meal porridge, and tea. Food aid is a major part of their survival.

What I have access to is ridiculous. What we have access to in the West is ridiculous. It's not that I need to feel badly for having so much, just that I need to be aware, to be thankful, and to use my wealth well.  I have baskets of plenty.

No comments: