Yesterday I got up on the right side of the bed. I woke with gumption seeping out of my veins and feeling vigorous like I haven’t felt since I returned from the desert. To celebrate I decided to finally venture to find the closest supermarket and finally stock up on some basic food stuffs.
After dutifully mapping its location I set off in my best day off slacker clothes, or at least the only ones fit for Cairo where wearing faded paint-stained sweatpants would make people think I’d broken out of the loony bin. Stepping outside my buildings front door I rejoiced to find sunlight streaming over the tops of the buildings across the street.
You see, we had had the khamseen for three days before which not only brings with it the sands of the very nearby Sahara but also whips up all of the dust and dirt of Cairo (of which there are a lot) blotting out the sun and making life miserable, especially when added to the frigid cold and heat less, open buildings.
Soon my proudly sported Ecole hoody seemed a bit overkill, but cozy and comforting after a week of chills and a head cold. After stopping briefly for a glass of asab, the sugarcane juice which is sustaining my existence these days, and wading through a sea of boys just released from school, I turned a corner to find Metro market in front of me. But not before noticing the inconspicuous plant nursery tucked into the center of the block and getting excited about buying plants for my balcony there, since getting them home from well-known plant shops in Maadi would be a tad difficult on the metro.
Entering the supermarket I felt that except for the Arabic packaging and signage I could be in any supermarket in Europe (not the States because they are all too big there). I spent a long time examining the shelves and noting all the options at hand. At the entrance there is a large wall on the left full of every kind of European chocolate and biscuits (cookies for my American English folks). I choose a Russian dark chocolate because it was half the price of Lindt and went on to find all kinds of foreign offerings such as nutella, peanut butter, breakfast cereal, etc. The funny thing is that these are the only items in the store that I can’t get on my street, more simply, directly and cheaply from the various shops dedicated to particular genres of goods. I had felt as though I was missing something, but as I stood there looking at the shelves full of pasta and jam and the freezer full of prepared appetizers and frozen pizzas I realized that I didn’t want any of it. The fact is that it’s all there, but its all just not quite the same and so I am not enchanted.
I came away with the bar of chocolate, a small piece of blue cheese, a 500 gram pot of yogurt, a can of coconut milk, and a 500 gram canister of oatmeal for just under 50 pounds. I proceeded to the Arab style dry goods shop – with burlap sacks of grains and spices adorning its steps – and bought: a kilo of rice, a half kilo of red lentils, 125 grams of black ground pepper, a quarter kilo of cashews, a half kilo of yellow raisins, and 8 boxes of matches for a total of 46.50 EGP. On my way back to my flat I walk Soliman Gohar street, the street I walk every day back and forth from the metro, which delightfully and conveniently happens to be the souk. I bought from my favorite vegetable ladies whose very rustic stand is under the trees on the first block of the street: a bunch of fresh cilantro, one of dill, and a half kilo each of cucumbers and tomatos… 4 pounds.
By the time a arrive to my little side street Mahmoud Amin, I have added to the haul a kilo of bananas and a half kilo of a succulent orangey red fruit that looks like overgrown rose hips. The taste is also similar, jettisoning me back to the coasts of my childhood. I arrive home having spent less than 20 dollars on worthy purchases all, a reality that after shopping gives me an intense feeling of victory.