Shopping Escapades

We wanted to share a unique experience we've had recently which is sort of African and yet has nothing to do with Africa, really. It's being a Westerner, shopping for food in Nairobi. Some of you may have seen my facebook comment about spending $700 on groceries and thought, those extravagant missionaries! They must have been buying peanut butter and ice cream and kobe beef steak! But believe me, for someone whose food budget over the last several years ran between $150 and $200 per month, the realization of the cost of our groceries nearly gave me heart failure. Especially because I don't think it's that extravagant of a collection.

Let me go through the grocery shopping process with you. We arrived in Nairobi on a Thursday night and on Friday morning another missionary family picked us up and took us to what looked like a very fancy shopping mall. Inside was what I could basically describe as a Super WalMart. Remember now that Eric and I had been in country for about 12 hours, and had just completed a 24 hour journey, and we had been up most of the night with our jet-lagged daughter. We're shown the microwaves (you need one of these), the toasters, the hot pots. Maggie needs to eat. Eric goes to the cellphone counter, where he is still standing 30 minutes later when I come looking for him. The missionary wife grabs me to start food shopping. We start with the spices, the nuts, the “granola ingredients.” She's throwing stuff in her cart with abandon. I'm standing there wondering which black pepper is the cheapest and which spices I need to get by. She turns to me. “You should be putting stuff in your cart—you need this!” Right. Never bought dried papaya before, but I've never made granola. Do I need peanuts? Well, I never buy them in the States, but...into the cart they go. Up and down the aisles we go, a constant commentary about availability and good brands and eating carbs for weeks at Tenwek if I'm not careful to plan ahead with my shopping. Cans of peaches (was that really $3.50? oh well), boxes of milk (you can buy it straight from the cow if you want at Tenwek but I'd recommend getting some of these), molasses (for cookies?), canned cream of mushroom soup (get a lot of those, we never see these!), enchilada sauce (if you see something you might want, get it now because it might not be here next time), ketchup (the Kenyan brands are disgusting), a can of Ragu spaghetti sauce for $5 (for emergencies)....whew. Three hours later we were done. Sort of. We had still not bought and perishables—no dairy, no meat, no produce. Those were at different stores.

The next day we headed to the ABC Center, home of Gilani's Butchery, Chandarama Supermarket, and Zucchini's Greengrocer. The meat was the kicker--$5/lb for chicken breast and $10/lb for cheese (although, it was New Zealand cheddar, which was the cheapest, and a terrific find for us). We saw a jar of monkey gland on the shelves amongst the other spice jars. What? Eric almost bought it out of curiosity but we had already spent more than I felt comfortable with. We had been given a list of things we should buy at the butcher, but really. I've never made a pork roast in my life and we don't eat bacon. The list got modified somewhat. Then to Chandarama. The problem with Kenyan grocery shopping is that stores aren't guaranteed to have certain items. For example, the Nakumatt store didn't have baking soda or powdered sugar, so we had to go elsewhere. Finally, at Zucchini's, we got some good deals, like fresh green beans for about 30 cents a pound, and snow peas for the same.

Now to Tenwek. We arrived at our apartment to find a bill for another $120 and 50 pounds of flour, 10 pounds of sugar, a gallon of sunflower oil, a giant tub of Crisco-like stuff, and multiple insect-killing products, among other things. So I'm settling into my house, hoping the food I bought makes enough meals to feed us for six to eight weeks until we go back to Nairobi. Fortunately, produce can be bought here (during the rainy season) at very cheap prices. Maybe next time will be cheaper, as we figure out what we do and don't need, what items are better deals than others, etc. I think we had imagined that yes, certain foods would be expensive, but there would be some budget options as well. Why not eat like Kenyans? Well, apparently Kenyans eat a cornmeal mush or porridge for every meal, with very little else. More to come on the adventures of eating in Africa. Maybe for our next trip to Nairobi, we'll splurge on the monkey gland.


Anonymous said...

Why on earth did you NOT get the monkey gland sauce?? It says it's *instantly* delicious!


ellen said...

I reminisce fondly of Ugali but it does get really old really fast.

Megan said...

This was an awesome post. I felt the exact same way. What an overwhelming and expensive trip that was for us and we are only an hour from Nairobi. After we had our shilling spree our driver looked at us and said "is that all?". Food is so expensive - we are really surprised. We are balancing the budget a bit with ramen noodles for lunch most days (am I back in college?)! I do have several cans of cream of mushroom soup and enchilada sauce on my shelves though!