Big news in Kinshasa. We have a proper grocery store. There was little warning and then suddenly overnight a little piece of South Africa came to Congo. And it's right around the corner from us.
I have to back up a bit and say that way back when, when Adam and I first got to Congo, the idea of a grocery store was as foreign as a smooth road. There was a smattering of tiny shops masquerading as acceptable places to buy groceries. One would have to visit at least 3 stores (often 5) in order to find the basics. No one store stocked affordable vegetables, rice and milk under the same roof. Okay, so there is one store that could be considered "one stop shopping," but the sticker shock is enough to send anyone on a teacher's salary into a panic attack.
So for many years Adam and I would dedicate our entire Saturdays (at 70 cents a kilometer in the TASOK cars) driving all over the city to get a respectable stock of groceries. Conversation among friends often started with, "I saw raisins at Kin Marche!" And then off we would go to find the legend of raisins at a hole-in-the-wall shop in downtown Kinshasa. When we visited the States or South Africa, we'd return with a year's supply of toothpaste, detergent, soap, plastic wrap, trash bags, you name it. Our motto was: If we use it and don't eat it, we personally import it. This was our lives for several years.
Then starting this year, things began to change. Two small-ish stores opened closer to TASOK. And they sold yogurt! And bread! And rice cakes!! (Note the double exclamation points after rice cakes.) All at the same time. We started to get cautiously optimistic. Then BAM! One day a friend sends me a text message, "Have you seen the new Shoprite? I just bought a box of Cheerios for $5!" What the what?!
Shoprite is a South African grocery store chain. When we took up temporary residence there for Charlotte's birth, our Afrikaner landlord referred to it as the place, "I don't go." She preferred the more high class Pick-n-Pay. This is how we knew Shoprite was right for us. It's cheap and a little bit rundown. Perfect.
Shoprite: Kinshasa Edition truly is beautiful. As far as we know, there's never been anything like it here. There's a parking lot and shopping carts that #1 roll and #2 you can put your kid in them without worrying about infectious diseases. There are aisles and aisles of stocked groceries. Sure, there are still the $40 melons and $80 chocolate cakes, but for the most part most things aren't prohibitively expensive.
For example, Adam and I are currently excited about our freezer full of frozen peas. Small bags only cost about $2. This is unheard of. We are now the proud owners of a few boneless chicken breasts for only--I forget how much, but it was under $30, so that's good. Charlotte was mostly happy to see two men dressed up as La Vache qui Rit. Further evidence that this is a bigtime, professional grocery store.
Okay, I'm now realizing I've written perhaps Mama Congo's longest blog post about a grocery store. But I have to admit that as we were walking through I thought of some friends who left Congo about 4 years ago, and what they would think of the city now. And then I teared up a little when I saw an entire aisle of baby gear. Is change on the horizon in Kinshasa? We're cautiously optimistic. There's a rumor that the prices will rise after May 6. This makes no sense, really. But neither do $40 melons.