Last year we had the privilege of living in Belize for two months. Most Belizean grocery stores are owned by Chinese families or German Mennonites, so finding familiar ingredients can be a bit of a challenge. I can give you the names of three stores that sell pig snouts, and two that sell chicken feet by the pound, but only one that sells vanilla extract. Every shopping trip was a scavenger hunt, and since the milk and bread go bad so quickly, we shopped every day.
My favorite store was owned by an elderly Chinese man whose name I couldn’t pronounce, so he told me to call him Jim. His store is the only one in town that has automatic doors. Not the kind we have here, with separate doors for entering and exiting, but two gigantic, solid glass, sliding doors that open and close like an elevator.
In the U.S. if you shop in one hundred degree weather, upon entering any place of business you will feel a welcoming wave of coolness. Not so in Belize. The heat inside is sometimes worse, and definitely more stifling, than outside.
Here at home you can locate items by simply glancing across the aisles and reading the signs. In Belize, everything is jumbled together in a way that never made sense to me. I would find myself sweating profusely, trudging up and down every dark aisle, over and over trying to find the simplest items.
Speaking of sweat, I found it odd that deodorant is the only item consistently kept behind glass and the clerk must get it for you.
One of the teen girls that we befriended told us she had made chocolate chip cookies in a class at school, only they made them without chocolate chips because they were too expensive and difficult to locate.
Ponder that for a moment.
We thought it would be fun to invite her over for an afternoon of baking. After searching three stores before locating a bottle of vanilla, and discovering it would be a two hour drive to a place that “might” carry chocolate chips, we decided to make peanut butter cookies instead.
Upon entering the store I was greeted by Jim’s toothy grin. “I have fruit for you today!” he enthused as he handed me a brown bag of fruit with a name I’d never heard, and unfortunately cannot recall. It was delicious! I thanked him heartily and then asked about the location of the peanut butter.
“Ah! Peanut butter. That is P.”
He took me by the hand and led me down each aisle, pointing as he explained in broken English,
“Alphabet. See? Here is beans. Here is bread. Here is coffee. Here is diapers and donuts.”
Up and down the aisles we went, Jim holding my hand tightly while pointing a bony finger and excitedly sharing his clever shelving system. “Alphabet! See? Grape jelly. Grease (shouldn’t that be under C for Crisco?). Hair Mayonnaise (what the heck?). Hot sauce. Ink pen.”
We rounded the corner, and I started to catch his enthusiasm, “Macaroni! Mops! Noodles! Nuts! We’re almost to the P’s!” I cried.
Olives. Ovaltine. Ovaltine? Panty hose. Pasta.
“Peanut butter!” we shouted together.
I put two jars in my cart, and since I was in the vicinity, I stocked up on pears, Pepsi, and Q-tips.
Last month I had the privilege of returning to Belize after being gone for a year and a half. I forgot to take a blow dryer, so on the first morning, I set out on a scavenger hunt. I was looking forward to seeing my old friend Jim. Sadly, he is no longer with us, but he left a bit of a legacy.
By my estimation, blow dryers should have been sitting right on the shelf between the blenders and bowls, but I was wrong. After a bit of searching, I found them wedged between the Elmer’s glue and a canned ham. Glue, hair dryer, ham. Alphabet. See?
Ginger Lumpkin is an author, motivational speaker, and mother of five. She can be contacted at ginger.columnist@gmail.com.