Recent events regarding the Coronavirus brought back this fun memory from Sierra Leone. Read on to find out why!
May, 2013 – Date of journal entry
In Sierra Leone, Stephen did all of the shopping. The 37 miles between us and the supermarket in Bo, was a brutal 4 hour ride (sometimes longer in the rains). My body just could not hold up to that abuse and I would easily lose three days after a trip, stuck in bed with pain. We both decided it was wiser for me to leave the shopping to him. It was not unusual for it to be 12 months or more before I left our little village in the Kangari Hills. I didn’t mind but I felt badly that Stephen had to do all of his things, plus get groceries too, on those long Bo days. We made it work though.
I developed a system where, throughout the month, I would keep a running list of items to restock. Then, when he announced he was making a Bo run, I would prioritize and streamline the list, trying to make it as easy for him as I could. Grocery shopping is not his first language so it came with much difficulty for him, and sometimes amusement for me. I would have main headings of items, then subheadings for alternate choices; things which seemed obvious to me most definitely were not for him. I also had to list other names by which the same item might be labeled, such as, peeled plum tomatoes, and stewed tomatoes. He would not know they were the same item. If I asked for one, but they had the other, he would come home with none. Then it was another month before I had the tomatoes. With a very minimal supply of items available to begin with, and those coming from all over Europe, parts of Asia, and the Middle East, names and labels can certainly get jumbled. Poor Stephen had to deal with all of that by himself.
Then there was what we decided to call “the forever list.” This consisted of items he learned he needed to just get every time. One mainstay of the forever list was … toilet paper. Sorry, but I’ll have to be a bit graphic here. It seemed that I always managed to have a case of parasites, or picked up worms, or had malaria again, or disagreeable food, or … any number of things necessitating frequent trips to the bathroom. We would sometimes go through a spells where finding a simple four-pack of toilet paper would be next to impossible. Never mind the larger 8, 10, or (gasp) 12 pack! I would nervously watch our small stockpile of tissue dwindle down, and down. A few times we came dangerously close to completely running out, but fortunately I was already quite skilled at rationing it. More times than I can remember, he would come home to my anxiously questioning, “Did they have any?” And more times than I can tell, his answer was a grumbled, “No!” as he carried in packages of groceries. We never did figure out any rhyme nor reason to it. We just learned, well, Stephen learned, that when they did have toilet paper, he bought a LOT!
I usually sorted and put away all the supplies the day after the Bo run. Stephen typically returned home after dark, and by the time he brought in the boxes, showered, and we had supper, we just wanted to sit on the veranda and visit. So the next day would see me with scattered jars, cans, boxes, and packages as I organized and put things away. One time, though, one of his purchases confused me a little. “Stephen,” I called, “I’m not sure where to place this item. Does it go in the pantry? Or should I put it on the bathroom shelves?” Poor guy, he took my bait, and came into the back of the house where we had our pantry. Once there, he saw the smirk on my face as I held out a single roll of toilet paper manufactured in South Africa. He just laughed and tossed the trophy back to me. Vegetarian toilet paper? Really? Who could think of such labeling? I guess they were just covering all the bases.