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On our first Saturday here, we went shopping for school supplies at Marjane. Marjane is a big local supermarket, modelled on stores like Carrefour or Walmart, where you can buy everything from food to socks to appliances to sports equipment to pens and notebooks.
Donn and I took one child with us. Here, the taxis that you use to get around town only allow 3 people–even if one is a baby. If our entire family goes somewhere, we have to take two taxis, so whenever possible we leave 2 or 3 children home. This time, we took Abel with us.
As soon as we walked in, we were aware of our most basic mistake. Wise people do not go to the city’s major shopping center on a day that is both the Saturday before school starts and the Saturday before Ramadan. The place was packed. Just getting a shopping cart down an aisle was a major enterprise involving many “excuse me’s” and about 10 minutes of waiting for others to manoeuvre their own carts out of the way. No attempt was being made to return things to their original shelf, so even if we did manage to find one cahier with the right number and size of pages and the right size squares, we couldn’t find another one and we had no idea of the price.
We spent ages there, fighting the crowds, watching in some bemusement as people bought 10 kilos (20+ pounds) of flour and sugar and powdered milk in preparation for cooking a month’s worth of Ramadan treats. Entire families were shopping. Waiting in line to buy olives, I was cut effortlessly by grandmothers in full hijab, and the place was packed with wailing infants whose idea of a relaxing Saturday afternoon didn’t involve Marjane.
This Saturday, we went again. In my innocence, I thought it would be different. School has started, Ramadan has started, shopping should be mellow. I was wrong. It was just as packed, just as crazy. We picked up a few school things we’d forgotten (for some reason, each child must have pens in blue, black, red and green AND fine-point permanent markers in blue, black, red and green, not to mention normal markers in colours which include, of course, blue, black, red and green. Why???) and were able to exchange the BIG binders for some that weren’t quite as big.
Entire families were out shopping; bored teenagers slouching alongside grandmothers, their mothers and sisters hauling babies on their hips or tied to their backs, their carts groaning under the weight of all the yogurts and olives and flour and pasta they were buying. We threaded our way though the seemingly-endless crowd, waited half an hour in the check-out line just to purchase relatively few items. We have learned our lesson: avoid Marjane on Saturdays.

September 2008

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