According to the movies, which are always truthful and accurate, in the 1950s a trip to your neighbor supermarket was like visiting a friend. The grocer knew your name, you would stop and chat with the other shoppers because your kids went to school together, and people enjoyed the social, community-type experience. Nowadays it’s not really like that. It’s more of a get in, get what you need as quickly as possible, and get out, preferably without having to engage anyone in conversation. Botswana isn’t pure 1950s, but it certainly has a less stressed out and more laid-back approach than most people in the western world take when shopping.
Today I went to the grocery store just down the street from my house. I go there at least once a week, sometimes two or three times. It is midway between my house and the gym, so it’s easy to stop on my way back and forth. Also, the selection is rather limited, so often I will stop three days in a row and purchase nothing each time, until the onions I was hoping to buy finally arrive on day four. This afternoon, that was what I was shopping for, onions.
As I handed the cashier my credit card to pay for my onions she asked to see my ID, which is standard here. I gave it to her and then realized she was scrutinizing it in great detail. She then handed the ID to another cashier who looked at it and the two of them exchanged several comments in Setswana. As my friends here remind me frequently, “You don’t really blend in,” so I was curious what they were examining, but I didn’t ask. Finally my cashier pointed to my driver’s license and said, “Is this from the UK?” I told her no, it was from the U.S. Then about four other store employees got involved in a very animated conversation in Setswana. They were nodding their heads and sort of laughing and smiling. Eventually they came to a consensus and one of the men told me, “We always wondered where you are from. But it makes sense. You smile and talk a lot [in Setswana. Of course] you are from the U.S. English people don’t smile and they aren’t very friendly.” “Well, thank you very much.”
I packed up my bag and proceeded toward the exit when the male employee asked me why I was hobbling. I explained to him that I had fallen yesterday and my toe was in a lot of pain. It was right about lunch time and several Botswana Police Officers had entered the store from their offices across the street. The employee told me to wait a minute. A few seconds later he arrived with a police officer who told me to remove my shoe and let him see my foot. I hesitated and then he looked at me and said, “Hey I know you. You’re the girl that always bikes around the prison. Where have you been? We’ve missed you.” I was so shocked I didn’t respond. He continued, “It’s ok, I’m the prison doctor. I heard you hurt your foot. Let me see it.” So, the store employee brought me a chair, and the doc proceeded to examine my foot in the grocery store. “Looks like you broke your toe. That’s gonna hurt for a while, you should probably be careful.”
So, that was my trip to the grocery store. It wasn’t a true 1950s grocery store experience, but it was unique, kind of like everything else about my life here in Africa. :)