One of our main reasons for coming to Niamey once a month is so we can go grocery shopping. This always takes quite awhile, but I have it down to a fine art and can usually do it with a minimal amount of stress.
But while we were gone in the US, I seemed to have forgotten the art of stressless shopping in Niamey (don't laugh, Mike! You'll be stressed on your end of the equation!).
First of all I've been so exhausted from jet lag and from the stress of the trip. I've felt like a zombie wandering through a thick fog. I felt like I could neither focus nor function.
Secondly, it is impossible to buy everything in one store. While we were gone I had rather forgotten which store had what.
Thirdly, I went to my favorite store. When I left, I thought the guard/parking attendant seemed kind of mad at me. I thought, "Well, he's gotten grouchy lately." Then I got to the end of the street and was trying to turn left. A policeman came up to me and said, rather sternly, "Why did you come the wrong way down a one way street?" I said, "WHAT? I've been gone a year and it wasn't a one way street a year ago!" He said, "Well, there's a sign saying it's one way." I told him I was very sorry, but I didn't see it. He kindly say, "OK, but don't do it again."
Fourthly, I have to buy for a month and there is no food in the house at all. So that means I have to buy a lot of everything. Then when I got to the cash register and she said "110,000" that just seemed like a huge amount of money. Food really is more expensive here, but 110,000 isn't nearly as much as it sounds! And that was only at one store. I hate to imagine the grand total of all the stores I went to!
Fifthly, I decided to go into the market and get the meat myself. Now, folks, these pictures I've posted here (compliments of Mike Murphy) are not of the scratch and sniff variety. The meat market smelled very strongly of raw meat mixed with the smell of the mud all over the ground, combined with the smell of rotting vegetables in a heap nearby. While I was waiting for him to get my meat and cut it up, a nun came to buy meat. She ordered something with bone in it. He laid the meat on a huge chopping block made of a log. Then he proceeded to whack at it with his huge butcher knife. Flecks of meat and chunks of bone were flying everywhere, landing on both the nun and I. The sister decided to cover her mouth with her handbag and I just stood there, patiently flicking off the pieces that landed on me. Now, you would think that all of this would totally gross me out, but I knew what it would be like and was pretty well steeled for it all. But this leads us to the sixth thing.
Sixth, while waiting for my meat, a young man stood beside me talking non-stop in French. I kept trying to get him to switch to Songhai, but he just switched back to French. It was taking a fair bit of emotional energy to maintain an even keel at the butcher's table (who, by the way, did an amazingly beautiful job of cutting the meat into steaks and cubes), so I had no energy left to concentrate on somebody talking nonstop in French. I just kind of zoned him out, muttering something in reply once in awhile. Then a fight broke out just behind us and he said, "See! That's what I'm talking about!" I had no idea what he was talking about or what the fight had to do with it.
Anyway, I survived my first shopping trip, though it took me two days to get it done. From now on I hope my shopping trips will be non-events for me, just another part of the routine.