Tuesday, I went to town with Sam. We had a large list for RMI, a list for Gary, a list for my household, and a list for myself. Up until recently there were two main grocery stores we shopped at. The Superstar and the G&B. When I say the word grocery store, you’re probably imaging something like a Publix, or a Kroger's The Caribbean Market in Port was something more like that. And it had air-conditioning. Its not there any more. It was destroyed in the earthquake. The stores we have here a a little different. If you’ve ever been to a Hispanic Grocery store or an Asian market in the states, you might have a little better picture of what I’m talking about. Shelves line the walls from floor to ceiling. The shelves are attached very securely to the walls- I’ve seen employees climb the shelves to reach the top shelf items. There are more standard grocery shelves down the middle of the store; the Superstar has one row and the G&B two. Both stores are long and narrow. At the back of both of the stores are two or three chest freezers. These are filled with cases of chicken, boxes of bacon, bags of ground beef, butter, cheese, pepperoni and various other things that need freezing. The G&B also has a glass front freezer where soft drinks, yogurts, cheeses, sour cream and other perishable items are stored. There is also a standard standup refrigerator where you can find beer, sports drinks, juices and other liquids and in the freezer you’ll find various meats. All along the wall shelves additional items (mostly items already out somewhere else and waiting to be restocked) line the floors. The G&B is wider than the Superstar but not as deep. When they’re busy they’re both crowded and hard to maneuver around. Employees who work in the stores are there for you. If you come in with a list, they’ll help you shop. There’s no room for a buggy but they do have plastic baskets and these guys will help you fill your basket, and take the full one from you, set it up front at the counter, and replace it with an empty one. They’ll climb shelves, check on prices, and check the store room if you can’t find what you need. When you’re ready to check out, there’s someone standing with you the counter. He’ll pull the groceries out of your baskets, place them on the counter and call out the price of each item so that the cashier, quite often the owner, inputs the amounts on a calculator. After unloading your baskets, they’ll load your groceries in bags, or cardboard boxes if you have a large quantity of groceries, seal them up and take them to the truck, which is usually parked curbside just out front or just across the street. You’d be surprised at the things you can find in these grocery stores; anything from cereal, milk, flour, sugar, cooking oil, baby supplies, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and soap, to expensive shampoos, L'Oreal hair color, Betty Crocker cake mixes, maraschino cherries, Diet Coke and Victoria’s Secret Body Spay and Lotion, and many various and random items in between. There are other places in town to get some of these things, but in much smaller quantity and with much less variety. The Superstar has expanded to a second location. Its a little nicer in its set up. Its air conditioned, and three or four aisles. There is one more grocery store on the way out of town and back into Cayes but we rarely shop there. It too is air-conditioned and is quite large compared to the other three-and for that reason, it is generally more expensive.
The first time I took a trip to town and visited a grocery store, I was overwhelmed. It was busy and crowded and different. Everything smelled different, looked different and didn’t quite feel right to me. I was new, maybe 4 days off the plane. These days, it just feels normal.
Since the quake, stores in town have been closed on and off, and then some of them only open two or three hours. I was told this was for fear of another earth quake. Buildings seem stable enough but are old and some of them look like it wouldn’t take much to disrupt them. Sam and I went to town around 9:45am. We were hoping to go to the Superstar because we usually find most of our stuff there. We passed the new Superstar, aptly named “The Superstar Remix”. It says so on the sign painted on the building out front. The one in town wasn’t opened either. Sam tried to call the owners (everyone knows everyone around here) and couldn’t find them. Just down the street, we were relieved to find the G&B opened, and packed. It seemed like everyone is Cayes was there stocking up. There was literally not a place where you could stand where you weren’t in the way of somebody and if you moved you were in the way of somebody else. There were places on shelves that were empty with nothing to fill their place. We bought the last of a lot of things- others bought the last of a lot of other things. We couldn’t find some things. We shopped for two hours buying bulk of many things and filling basket after basket. People streamed in and out. Mind you, its not a lot of space but never the less, lines backed up at the register and bottle-necked in the middle aisle and at the two front doors- one on each side of the cash register’s counter. And then the activity ceased. People began trickling in at a more casual pace and momentarily, it all felt normal again. My guess is it was because the Superstar had by that point opened up. After we paid, I needed to get Haitian cash and had checks from several other missionaries who needed cash as well. The man who usually cashes checks for us had been closed on and off all week, too. It just so happened that he was closed on this day. Nothing we could do but hope he’d be open another day, problem was we were trying conserve fuel considering its virtually impossible to find around here. Finding him open another day would entail another trip to town.
Sam and I made our way to the Superstar where the environment was similar to that at G&B, a furry of activity. We were able to find most of what we hadn’t found at the other store. Except we couldn’t find chicken (we buy it frozen by the box), rice, sugar, or beans. For Haitians, the case of chicken isn’t a staple but rice and beans and sugar are. They are becoming increasingly harder to find. We drove around the market to four different places to find chicken with no luck. We eventually found sugar, rice and beans, but it wasn’t easy. And its going to get even harder in the days to come.
The people in Cayes are going to have an increasingly hard time finding food too. They don’t have the luxury of buying in bulk. So pray for them. RMI has some available for distribution, and is hoping to get some more sent in. Pray that we would have the wisdom to know how to allocate what we have in the most effective way possible. People are going to be hungry; and soon.
Sam was able to get money for Gary and me today. When we run out of Haitian cash, we run out of our ability to pay our Haitian staff. When we can’t pay them, they can buy what they need to provide for their families, when they can find food. Its not a matter of needing more American cash either (not that it wouldn’t help but local Haitian produce and products are bought with Haitian cash. It doesn’t matter how much American money we have sitting in our banks, without the flow of Haitian cash, it doesn’t matter).