The Village ‘Grocery Store’

The thing I once despised is now at the center of nearly all my dreams: Grocery stores. I used to loathe grocery shopping and would make a detailed list before entering the supermarket so I could quickly grab what I needed and get out of there. I’m not sure why I hated grocery shopping so much, maybe it was how quickly I could rack up a bill or the number of overwhelming choices, but I just never cared for the task. Now that grocery stores are a thing of my past, they are all I can dream about. Funny how that works! I now awake on many mornings remembering my nighttime fantasies of perusing aisle after aisle.

In my village, there aren’t many options to peruse, but because there are options I’m luckier than some. Many villages don’t have a market at all, so people have to travel to neighboring towns or wait for weekly roving markets called “lumos.” Sibanor, however, has the luxury of a “big” daily market and several small shops called “bitiks.”

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Sibanor market

Every day, about 35 women and girls sell produce from their gardens in the center of the market. Forget coupons! Everybody sells exactly the same thing for exactly the same price. Where you choose to buy your goods is all about who you know.

Sibanor market

The Sibanor market is one of the biggest in the Foni region

Vegetable selections in my village market are roughly as follows:

Onions and hot peppers are plenty for nearly the entire year. Eggplants, cucumbers and bitter tomatoes (all of which I’ve had to force myself to like) are in season from about June to October. Irish potatoes and a few carrots also are available in that time. Cassava is in season during October and November. Tomatoes and cabbage are around from January to March. Lettuce is also available for a very exciting 3-week period in March.

 

Other than mangos from June to August and watermelon from October to December, fruits aren’t available in village.

While the produce situation is certainly grim, my village has more than most.

If you wake up early, you can even buy fresh fish at the market! Since there aren’t many fishermen but there are many people, finding good fish is a problem. My market usually only has small, bony “chalo,”but sometimes we can find better varieties in neighboring villages. It’s not uncommon for a family of 10 to share one or two small fish because of the availability and cost.

Around the market are several shops where you can buy things like rice, oil, sugar, flour, salt, garlic, tea and coffee, powdered milk, canned beef, spaghetti, tomato paste, peanut butter, matches, bread and eggs. Finding the ingredients in stock is pretty reliable except for a couple (grueling) months last year when the entire country suffered an egg shortage.

Bitiks are also in random spots throughout the village. Because I live in a bigger community, there are quite a few shops compared to some of my friends’ villages where there isn’t even one.

A "bitik" or shop

A “bitik” or small shop

Bitiks can be a magic place full of unexpected treasures. Abdou, the owner of the bitik near my compound, has incredible things in stock if you know what to ask for. Unfortunately, I often don’t know what to ask for but if I fumble long enough in local language he eventually motions for me to just go behind the counter and look for what I want. On top of all the basics, I’ve found clear packing tape, super glue, bicycle seats, padlocks, incense, lotion, light bulbs and … wait for it: cold water and sodas.

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My local bitik

Abdou, my favorite bitik owner and friend

Abdou, my favorite bitik owner and friend

Next time you are complaining about the long line at the grocery store, be happy you have a grocery store!

–JDF