Saturday, November 23, 2013

Grocery Stores.....

I lived in Pakistan for  a little while when Citygirl was a baby.  I learned to love the bazaars, both the ones that were made up of small shops more-or-less permanently located in shopping districts, and those that appeared like magic once a week.

My mother-in-law and I would go weekly to one such bazaar.  It was, for her, grocery shopping.  In a dry, dusty, empty field, a tent city would miraculously arise for one day every week.  Beautiful cotton cloths reminiscent of oriental carpeting were strung from tent pole to tent pole, 12 feet off the ground.  Since it rarely rains in Karachi, their chief purpose was to shade the shoppers.  There was no electricity, no fans, no refrigeration.  And Karachi is similar to south Florida for climate, only dryer. When the wind blows through the bazaar, the air becomes hazy with dust.

We'd stop at the chicken stand first.  My Appi ('Mom' in Urdu) would select a live chicken from and unshaded pen of listless birds.  While we did our shopping, the chicken would be beheaded, drained of blood in Hilal fashion (similar to Kosher killing), and plucked in a hand-cranked chicken-plucking machine that sent feathers flying through the bazaar.  We'd pick it up on our way out.

There were people everywhere.  Shopkeepers sat on small rugs with their wares surrounding them.  There were piles of peeled garlic cloves that looked like they had been dumped out of a full wheelbarrow.  If you preferred, you could buy it unpeeled in the shop next door.  The next stall would have fresh herbs, and the next, spices.  Further down you could find stands selling socks, linens, materiel for sewing.  Piles of fresh fruit, nuts, dried figs and raisins were all out in the open.  Each shopkeeper had his own scale, and kept his money safe by squatting on it.

Yogurt was for sale out of open clay bowls nearly 3 feet across.  Appi came with containers from home.  Cheese was rare and usually purchased in tins.  Cream was sold in bags.  Freshly butchered mutton was also available.  Meat was ground by smashing it between flat rocks.  Flies were simply part of the process.

When Appi came to visit us in New York City she was always impressed by the sometimes wasteful  lengths our shops went to to keep food fresh and safe.  I could understand her point of view to an extent - after all, she'd survived Pakistani food standards, right?  Of couse, that's a bit like us saying that we don't need seatbelts because WE didn't die of not having them.

In third world countries, as many as half of all children die before their fifth birthdays because of infections caused by unclean water.  Food contamination is a very small problem compared to that, so until the water is safe, there is very little incentive to improve food safety.  Or add seatbelts to cars.  Or worry about motorcycle helmets.

So my gratitude today is for grocery stores. I'm grateful for the luxury of clean water, safe (for the most part) food, and the fridge I keep it in. 


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