As I’ve told you before, going shopping is always a bigger errand here in South Africa than you will expect. Or I guess I should put this in relative terms and qualify it with “when coming from America, or possibly Europe.” If you’re coming from, I don’t now, Ghana, you might find South African shopping a breeze.
Anyway, I was on another one of my typical South African shopping outings the other day, and about halfway through I couldn’t decide whether to laugh out loud or find a place to sit and write it all down, because I had lost track about what it was I had set out to do.
The only thing I really needed was malaria tablets for our trip to Klaserie Game Reserve. I had called ahead at the doctor’s office, which is located in Broadacres Shopping Centre, and the prescriptions were ready to be picked up. So I went there first, not without grabbing my grocery list, as the Superspar is right next door to the doctor’s, and there is always something I like to get at Superspar. Plus the repair slip for Jabulani’s remote controlled helicopter (which is in a perpetual state of broken-ness, not surprising if you’ve ever seen him fly it) because the repair shop for THAT is behind the Spar.
The doctor, of course, didn’t have the prescription ready, so I sat down to wait. Nothing unexpected here. I briefly considered passing the time in the pharmacy next door, but given the fact that I needed my prescription for the pharmacy, I chose to wait, then went to the pharmacy.
South African pharmacies, on a normal day, will actually surprise you if you’re coming from the U.S. They usually fill your prescriptions right then and there. But there is something about malaria scripts, especially if you bring them for six people, that overwhelms even the best pharmacist around here, what with having to figure out the number of days and then the number of tablets for different age kids needing different dosages. Never mind that the doctor typically does all of the hard math required and all the pharmacist has to do is count up to 36 or something like that. Just trust me when I say it’s best to budget plenty of time for that particular errand should you ever have a need for it.
Which is why, as expected, I found myself tapping my foot faster and faster standing at the counter waiting for those pills at Clicks. The clerk, noticing my impatience – which is rare, because people here are typically so patient, they don’t know what impatience is – politely asked: “Do you have any other shopping to do while you wait?”
So I decided to go to the helicopter place to pick up the helicopter. Except when I got there, there was no record of it anywhere on their pile of – admittedly disorganized – repair slips, and the old man who handles repairs and who I had dropped it off with, had stepped out. “Could you do any other shopping around here first and come back in twenty minutes?” was the advice I got.
Since I hadn’t spent enough time yet for the pharmacy to come through, I decided to get a few groceries in the meantime. It was two days until Christmas, and I needed a nice roast, which was a perfect project for the Spar butchery. My problem with roasts here is that while they might have the same cuts of meat I am familiar with, they most definitely don’t call them the same. A beef tenderloin or filet mignon is just “fillet,” pronounced the same way as “millet.” Somehow that always turns me off the filet right there. And what I wanted that day was chuck roast, perfect for slow-roasting in your oven all day. Never mind that your kitchen is about a hundred degrees already at Christmastime in South Africa, and that running your oven for four hours nonstop is really the last thing you want to do. I half-heartedly browsed the roast selection but of course nothing looked remotely like chuck roast, so I asked. We don’t have that, was the answer. But after living here for two years I have learned that you need to ask at least three people before giving up, so I pushed on and struck gold in that I caught a glimpse of the head butcher rushing past. If you see someone rushing in South Africa, you can always assume that they are competent. Competent people have a purpose, and people with a purpose move fast.
The head butcher was a grizzled but sprightly man, who was delighted to discuss meats with me. I described what I wanted, and his face lit up. “I haven’t had anybody ask me for a chuck roast in seven years!” he exclaimed, but assured me it could be done, and with a cheerful “Why don’t you do some other shopping in the meantime while we get it ready for you” he rushed off. I feebly called “But THIS is ALREADY my other shopping” after him, but he was already gone, blood-splattered apron and all.
At this point I was starting to panic. I was facing the prospect of returning home with NOTHING checked off on my list, because I started running out of time. This is my worst nightmare. I live by making lists and checking things off of them, and the more frazzled I get, the more I want to write down to-dos. I think the need for that exponentially increases with each child you bear. If I had had any more babies, I’m sure I’d put “go to toilet” on a daily list.
My whole ordeal that day reminded me of a nursery rhyme of sorts we learned as kids in Germany, called “Der Bauer schickt den Jockel aus.” It’s about the farmer sending out Jockel to cut the oats. Jockel doesn’t want to cut the oats and doesn’t return, so the farmer sends out the stable boy to find Jockel, so Jockel can cut the oats. The stable boy of course remains at large as well, so the farmer, growing increasingly desperate, keeps sending out messengers from the ox to the witch and the executioner (seems like German nursery rhymes are just as bloody as English ones) to bring back the previous envoy, all the way back to Jockel. That’s how I felt, except I was the one being sent places: From the pharmacy to the remote control place to the butcher and on and on, making my eventual path back more and more difficult to remember, which of course is the whole point of those stories.
I honestly can’t recall in which order I wrapped up all my loose ends but I did get a lot of walking done that day. Somehow, the helicopter was found, which is a miracle, because even the old man was overwhelmed when looking at all his shelves with countless helicopters in different states of disassembly. At Clicks, all 120 malaria pills were eventually counted, although I had to go back yet another time to get the actual receipts with the correct names on them for reimbursement purposes, making me spend more money on unneeded drugstore items just to pass the time while waiting yet again.
And the roast ended up truly delicious. That alone was worth the entire day.