Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Where Can I Get Pom-Poms (or Where I Shop)

One of the most fun and often frustrating parts of moving to a new country is figuring out what you can and can't buy... and where to find it.    In the US, we are accustomed to a one-stop shopping experience, especially with the explosion of Super Walmarts and Targets.  What?  I can get groceries, a dress, two pictures frames, a new headlight, a stability ball, a new DVD player, and modge podge all from the same place?  Don't mind if I do!   I'm sure you can also agree that it is easy to find things we didn't know we needed when we step into these palaces of stuff- Omg!  I did not even know they made hummous-scented candles but I totally need one!  And what if, God forbid, Walmart doesn't have the thing you went in for?  Well, then you probably didn't need it that much anyway, because you sure as heck aren't driving to another store- you've already been in Walmart for seven and a half hours, when you just ran out for milk.

The one-stop shop is almost an option here.  We have mega-stores but they are not as convenient as Walmart- one floor is groceries and one floor is household goods and never the two shall meet.  If you go shopping in one, you must pay for your items and then leave them at the counter before going into the upstairs or downstairs part of the same store.   And while the grocery section is pretty good, the household goods section is a bit like K-Mart- kind of cheep and sad.  You are almost guaranteed that they will not have whatever it is you've come for (this week it was no paintbrushes and the trike that I wanted for Ladybug's birthday... it was missing it's pedals... but it was still on the 'showroom' floor... for sale... *side eye*).

Bahrain is a lot like all of the other countries I've lived in where one of the biggest trials is figuring out what food you will have access to at the grocery store.  If you're lucky, you will be able to find all the ingredients you need for whatever you're cooking at Lulu or Gaent.  Except pork.  If you include pork on your list of things to eat, you will have to go to a different store that has a specific section just for pork products.  Many times, however, you'll get four of the five things that you need to make your chicken-a-la-something and, as you go to pick up that last item from the place it usually is, it won't be there (last week, this was cornstarch for me).  So you have to scrap that plan and figure out what you can make with what you have instead. 

I've gotten better at shopping and being prepared for food-related disasters since I first moved to the DR.  Initially I think the shock of what I'd done culture shock was enough that I needed the comfort of food I knew and liked.  So I spent a lot of money buying American brand foods so at least one part of my life still felt like 'home.'  Now, after so many years, it's just part of the adventure of being an expat.  Oh, you want to make Mexican casserole tonight?  Well, sorry- no black beans for you!  Ok, so you'll switch to stuffing meatloaf?  Nope, no stuffing.  Maybe PB&J sandwiches... no peanut butter. 

A man knitting booties in Shanghai
When I lived in Shanghai, I learned to knit.  I learned to knit because Shanghai was completely overwhelming for me and I was not happy in my job, so I spent a lot of time sitting on the couch watching TV.  As time passed, I became restless and unhappy that, after the end of a boring weekend in my apartment, I had completed nothing, done nothing.  Now this didn't spur me to get up and go anywhere- no, I still wanted to sit on the couch, but I wanted to be doing something.  Knitting seemed the obvious answer.  Shanghai was great for knitting.  Old ladies and men sat on street corners just knitting away.  There were little shops filled with gorgeous wools and yarns and, with enough pointing (or my friend M who spoke fluent Mandarin) I could get suggestions for whatever project I was working on.

Since I've started crafting, I've started asking more 'will I be able to get' questions as we prepare to move to a new country.  Yarn, I asked, upon my move to Bahrain.  The answer- a boisterous laugh.  It's the desert... who's sitting around knitting?  So I've had to find fulfillment in other crafty ways. 

Last year, a colleague responded to a school wide email I sent out, asking where I could find felt.  I was certain that the Ladybug needed a felt Christmas tree to make her life complete and I was determined to make her one.  M (a different M) took me to the... school supply store?  I don't even know what to call this place.  In Guatemala, we called it a sh!t shop.  Because it had any and all of the most random sh!t you could think of.  Need some hand lotion?  Check.  How about a baby doll?  Check.  Oh, you need some Smarties- got 'em.  The sh!t shop was like a very miniature, foreign (because you will never find the same thing twice) version of Walmart. 

So this store is like the Bahrain version of the Guatemalan sh!t shop.  Except it's gigantic.  It literally
Need a ball, lanyard or a plastic car?
has anything you could think of in terms of schools supplies.  And crafty supplies.  And paper.  And plastic food.  And magnets.  And felt, and bobble heads and key chains and face paint.  And yesterday I saw a laminating machine.  You have to turn sideways to get down most of the aisles and if someone else is also coming down that aisle, you will have to move into another aisle.  Carrying a basket, which you need because you will find exactly one million things that you NEED, is a recipe for disaster as you will knock something off of some shelf.  There are rarely prices on anything.  The owner adds everything up on a calculator and then gives you a discount.  Once, when I brought some of the newbies, just to show them where it was and what they could get, he gave me a free key chain because I gave him new business.  I don't imagine that happening in Walmart...
Or maybe stencils, canvas, or a book bag?

How about paper? 

It's a super-miniaturized version of Michaels... though much less organized.  Going shopping here is a little like going on a scavenger hunt, really, and everyone loves a scavenger hunt!  The shop is not easy to get to and is actually harder to get home from.  But at least I know where to find felt.  Do I wish that I could have a one-stop shop in Bahrain where I could just get everything I needed at the same time?  Yeah, most of the time.  Is there something to be said for knowing where to find googly eyes when your daughter wants a minion party and getting a free key chain from the sh!t shop owner?  Yeah, most of the time. 




4 comments:

  1. your first paragraph... ridiculously funny.
    It's funny though that when you realize and get used to not being able to find everything you learn to get by with not finding everything. Being in DR now HUsband and I make our food shopping list and say, "We're going to make spinach pie this week. Unless there's no spinach. Then we'll make Portobello mushroom sandwiches." Luckily, there are plenty of black beans here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The DR and Guatemala were amazing for black beans!!! I miss them so much when I can't find them. I make shopping lists just like that- and spinach is one of those things that comes and goes here too!

      Delete
  2. Hey, I knit too! Only one stitch - but, I've made several scarves in my day - I suppose I could learn something more complicated if I tried. Lol.

    I think it is so sweet that the owner of the shop gave you a keychain for bring in new business! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, it was sweet but I sort of insisted that he did. I was really looking for more of a discount, but the keychain works too :) Haha! I love, love, love knitting but I have such a hard time finding the time to do it anymore. And it's so hard to find good yarn... too many creative expression outlets, too little time!

    ReplyDelete