A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

“Where do you get vegetables?”

So asks my flatmate, who orders food and doesn’t answer the door when it arrives, leaves a glass of open milk in the fridge for days til the stench more than wrinkles the nose, or an open bowl of half-eaten noodles til it’s all so crusted together she tries to heat it in the bowl in the toaster oven, which clearly doesn’t work, so she leaves it on the counter and I throw the resulting concoction away.  Sometimes I think she doesn’t need to grow up, she needs to start over at age 7 and try again.
I tell her, “I get them at the market.”
“At the shop down the lane?”
“No, the market by the train station.”
“The train?” She is confused, gives up and walks away. Why would she know where the train is? It’s a 7-minute walk, and if she ever leaves the house she likely takes a taxi or a friend’s car. She’s probably never bought groceries in her life. And in her defense (or as Indians would say, defence), doing everyday things is like having another job here. (Photo: hypnotising English class advertisment)

(1)    Buying groceries. Yes, you can have them home-delivered, but I don’t know exactly what to ask for, phone conversations in Hinglish are tricky, and I want to pick out my own fresh food and not be sent a box of unripe tomatoes. This requires different stores for different types of food: dairy store, dried fruit and nuts store, snacks store, eggs store, grain and flour store, open farmer’s market for fruits and veg, or a grocery store with some combination of the above, like one called Nature’s Basket so comparable Whole Foods you can easily pay $5 for a box of imported organic cereal. (Photo: Subway's tandoori chicken salad is supa)

(2)    Mailing. I spent a day at the main post office to send holiday cheer by registered air mail, so I can track packages and there’s the least chance of their disappearing because they go from there directly to the airport. Some have to be packaged in cloth, so I had to go across the street and pay to have someone sew cloth around them, and I had to have customs forms filled out for each one. It’s cheaper to send fewer, so I tried to bundle some for people who live near each other. And the worker had to type so much in the computer for each package, when he saw my stack he laughed and put up a CLOSED sign to work on mine alone, for hours, and told me to sit in the back office and wait. And this is the most efficient post office—no wonder people have to bribe to get the bureaucracy moving.

(3)    Shopping. Speaking of sitting, sitting is considered very polite. People always want you to sit. Standing seems to make them nervous and feel rude. In the nicest stores you sit and say, “I want jeans,” and the staff bring it all over for you to look at, and then some. Even if I walk in a store and say no, I don’t want help, I’ll stand and look at a display, and suddenly two or three staff are hovering and telling me what the sign on the wall says, like, “This row is slim fit, and this is straight…” I know I get away with a lot being white, like touching the wares myself. I know it’s weird I pick up the shoe myself, turn it over, feel how much it bends. I should be sitting and pointing and saying, “That one, size 38.” Plus, there are areas of the city you go for certain things. Like, clearly you buy books and movies in Colaba, auto parts near Charni Road, wood beams and boards near Grant Road, jewelry at the bazaar near Crawford Market—and all the stores are in a row selling the same thing; I don’t know how to tell them apart, which are best.

(4)    Fixing things. My parents suggested that chains like Nokia must sell inferior products here to make up for lower profits here. I think so, or why would my one-month-old $90 phone screen break after sliding off the chair it was charging in, falling a mere two feet? First I found one store to go to, then I had to physically find it which took a while; next, they sent me to another store; and they in turn sent me to the official Nokia repair shop, where I waited 2 hours and was told I dropped the phone so it wasn’t a warranty-covered repair, and waited for a new screen.

(5)    Stolen/lost things. My wallet was (likely) stolen on Friday, and luckily I’m careful and keep my driver’s license, passport, and extra cash separate, so I just lost about $9 and an easily cancelable bank card (so getting a new card and a Western Union money transfer have become the new life/job adventure, in addition to the appropriate South African visa). (Photo: Uh oh, Gillette, you've been beat!)

While the operational inefficiency makes managers like my mother cringe, there’s less incentive to prevent the over-service and bureaucratic stumbles here, because it all provides jobs, and there’s a very different business culture. This is why servants are so useful: you don’t spend a day at the post office, your servant does, and he gets paid, so you both win. People don’t have hobbies; there’s little leisure unless you’re a rich housewife perhaps, which means you organize your days around lunching and weddings, yoga, facials, pedicures, massages, shopping, and other social and family obligations. A rocking Saturday night for the average person consists of walking, sitting, chai-sipping and people-watching on Marine Drive. And even though people often work 6 days a week, they go out Saturday and Sunday, not Friday. I don’t see why to choose Sunday over Friday, but so it goes.

There were eleven of us assembling a Thanksgiving dinner last week, and not an oven between those of us cooking, but the finished product (albeit veg, minus turkey) was still mighty fine. In sum, doing your own laundry and dishes in the U.S., as we'd say in the South, ain’t no thang.

Posted byValerie at 12:44 AM  


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