Monday, May 9, 2011

A trip to the market, a trip around the world

The day after we arrived here, our wonderful hosts the McCoys took us into Mount Hagen, our nearest town, to the grocery store and the market to stock up on food for the month. As can be expected, this was quite the eye-opening experience!

We are living on the Kudjip Hospital compound, which is about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the amount of recent rain...!) outside of Mount Hagen. We used one of the compound vehicles to get into town, and took with us a Papua New Guinean man named Peter to act as our watchman and stay in the vehicle guarding our belongings while we went into various little stores. We needed Peter because culturally it is not looked down on to steal, since the stolen article/money can better one's tribal standing. If you are caught in the act of stealing, however, you bring huge shame to your tribe and you will be beaten half to death right there in the street.

The grocery store surprised me; it stocked several varieties of many items, and was fairly clean and pretty well organised. Food is really expensive since most of it is imported from Australia. I definitely spent over $10 on a box of cornflakes. Admittedly it was family sized, but still. No tasty bells or whistles - just plain ol' cornflakes! We buy UHT milk in cartons that don't need refrigerating, and mix it with powdered milk (which is better than powdered milk in the US, but still needs 'real' milk to boost the flavour). MSG is apparently considered a delicacy here, and is sold in cute little tins labelled 'Pure Monosodium Glutamate', for all the world to see. Tuna is the colour of chocolate pudding (though it tastes the same), and when buying canola oil I had to hunt through several rows of bottles to find one that didn't contain a good two inches of mystery sediment. What is there in oil that can sediment out...!? Cheese and ice cream are going to be treats while we're here since they're at least double the cost as back home, and I couldn't bring myself to even buy one little pot of yoghurt ($4 per individual pot) so Anna is learning how to eat cornflakes and berries for breakfast instead :) Overall, though, the grocery store experience was not that different from shopping back home.

The market, however, was another story. Fresh fruit and vegetables grow very well in this tropical climate, and I think I spent about as much on two weeks' worth of delicious fresh produce as on my box of cereal..! I don't have any pictures of the market since we were advised not to try to combine shopping trips with photography trips (inevitably either the camera or the food money will go missing!), but hopefully I can post some later. It is an outdoor market with a roof, but still very muddy and puddley inside. Vendors lay out their produce on tables or the floor, and splash dirty-looking water over their wares to keep it looking fresh all day. Garlic cloves are the size of large peas (VERY finicky to peel and chop, I'm finding!), avocados are nearly as big as Anna's head, small children stand behind the pineapple tables wielding machetes to lop the top off your pineapple if you want, and everything I bought from the market had to be washed once in tap water to get the obvious dirt off, and once in filtered water to get the tap water off. (We don't do anything with tap water here except wash dishes and shower. And pre-rinse market purchases!)

Mama's little helper washing off veg :) And that is not a slight of camera hand. They are green onions, and they are as tall as she is.

The lemons are the same size as back home. The avocados (our sample of which was not abnormally large compared with its peers) are not. It took us three meals of very generous avocado portions to finish off one!

After the 4+ hours we spent going between various stores to collect a reasonable pantry for our little home, we were exhausted! Partly from just being on our feet for that long, and partly because being foreigners (with a small and cute child) we were of course the subject of much curiosity and attention. I did feel under less scrutiny here than on either of our trips to Africa, though. Which was kind of nice :)