Shopping day is always my hardest day of the week. We try to go to fruit stands and bakeries etc. every chance we get, and have found some favorites near Damascus Gate, but about once every 10 days there’s a need for a real, big, supermarket shop. Hunting and gathering. It’s exhausting. First we load up the hiking backpacks and walk to Talpiot, a gritty, industrial part of town full of car dealerships and outlet stores. Pretty much everyone else drives to Talpiot, but we can do it in 20 minutes on foot, now that we’ve found all the short cuts. Of course, we have to cross a disgusting, trash-strewn industrial area to do so. Among other environmental toxins, today I had to step over a dead cat on my way to the grocery store. It’s bizarre that a place like this exists less than a mile from some of the nicest neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
When I get to Rami Levy, the fun is just beginning. Dodge the trucks unloading (no separate parking lot for suppliers). Liberate an (always wonky) shopping cart for 5 NIS. Wander the aisles in total puzzlement. About the only thing I can understand are the prices (the cheapest around, but that’s not saying much). Today I stood dazed in the dairy aisle for about 30 minutes until I figured out it was organized by brand, not by product. So far I’ve been too afraid to approach the deli or meat counters. We are eating things I can easily recognize – pasta, tomatoes, bread. Israeli cheese is its own universe.
I learned the hard way to shop early in the week and steer way clear of the pre-Shabbat craziness on Thursday and Friday morning. People are not that friendly at Rami Levy; everyone is on a mission. Load the groceries into the hiking backpacks, stop for security inspection (the guy is as puzzled by us as we are by him) and head home which is, naturally, straight up hill. It’s a great workout, but normal people would take a cab.
Does this all seem lame for an otherwise-capable person with a good education and plenty of travel experience? In my defense — most other difficult/disorganized/annoying parts of living abroad don’t have this effect. I could handle Ben Gurion airport but Rami Levy makes me want to cry. In the bright light of the supermarket, I’m brought face-to-face with all the very basic things I don’t know, starting with the ability to read any word or even letter of Hebrew. (Duh, that would help). Most of the time, I can shield myself from some of my own cluelessness, by hiding behind my adorable/demanding kids and living in what is essentially an expatriate bubble. I have been walking and exploring Jerusalem, and getting lost in the process, but somehow that doesn’t upset me as much as shopping. Perhaps it’s because buying groceries is second nature to me back home and I love to shop, cook and eat. It should be easy and fun, but it’s not — yet.
Of course I can flip my perspective and recognize a series of small victories. Today I braved Rami Levy without Terence for the first time and I successfully exchanged some diapers for a different size. That’s a gold medal day.