Addis offers a bounty for certain shoppers. Are you looking for day after day of seasonal rain? We got that. Need a feral dog? They’re free for the taking and the limitless packs of them (when not outrightly intimidating) offer bonus cuteness. How about heaps of uncut construction rebar? The streets are full up on the surplus, and you can find colors that run the gamut from rusty to muddy everywhere. And if you’re ever looking for either a 1990 or a 2003 Toyota Corolla with a few hundred thousand kilometers and a custom paint job, look no further than on any block of this city of somewhere between 3.5 and 10 million people (estimates vary).
For just about everything else, however, Addis is a bit of a hard nut to crack in terms of shopping.
Whether enthusiastically or reluctantly, keeping the shelves at home stocked proves central to my daily gig. What’s far less understood and often challenging is the constantly shifting supply of staples (sugar, butter, cereal, toilet paper, vegetable washing bleach…the list goes on and on). People who’ve been navigating Addis’s complex commerce for longer than a few months typically offer creative and astonishing advice on where to find what and when. I’d estimate that maybe 10% of my daily conversations in some way veer into a discussion of where to shop for something. It’a a big game and we’re all playing it.
As a result, my family’s certainly adjusting our usual shopping needs from life back in the States. For me, I’ve replaced just about every hard to find item on my list with a personal fave - more coffee. And because I continue to take my coffee without milk, I’m seldom disappointed when searching anywhere for what’s on that day’s list. I am, however, now wildly moody. Plus, I’ve dropped around 5 kg in the past six weeks. The blend of this mostly-coffee diet, an almost constant “is he lost or just too cheap to pay for a taxi?” walking regimen, and intermittent bouts of explosive diarrhea really helps in pursuit of that slightly-leaner look.
What we ended up with was a bit overboard. I have brats to make for an impossible to find American football game on TV in the next few months. We got a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s. Maya nearly cried when she saw the bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and (most importantly) two huge containers of Nutella. As much as I may decry the junk food that permeates our beloved homeland, the luxury of a grocery run with surrogates through those categories is unquantifiable.
The real shopping culture that I’d hoped to itemize falls more along the lines of how do prices compare and what’s the mix of haggling and “strategery” required to re-stock those shelves. We are, after all, doing some language lessons to learn how to communicate in those and other situations. Maybe I’ll get into the subjects of how not to get ripped off later. But just thinking about our jar of pickles back in the apartment has me distracted. Time to focus upon that. Ciao.