Gilded Broccoli

(Written October 2011) I was a self-described “Master Shopper” by the time we left Cairo. I could employ all manner of bartering techniques, including the “call the cheap husband” routine and the “just walk away” method. I fearlessly walked down alleys in search of the next hole-in-the-wall that sold whatever dust-covered item I was in search of. I delighted in finding a Pharaonic gem, or a plastic glow-in-the-dark replica. I could navigate the dusty fly-infested vegetable and fruit markets with enough confidence to get what I needed. I even enjoyed the frustrating moments, in hindsight. So, heading to Kuwait I was not worried about navigating shopping. Apparently I should have been.

The one thing Cairo did not, and could never have, prepared me for was the price-gasping. In Cairo, things were cheap, and then you’d barter them down from there. I’m sure that at one point, Kuwait was like this as well. But no longer. Currently, it’s more akin to Manhattan, but with higher prices.

The first few times we went grocery shopping, I could not stop gasping at the prices. I figured this would dissipate over time, but with every new outing, there’s another price to swoon over. There are times when I fear a blackout could happen due to over-gasping and subsequent lack of oxygen, so I do try to limit my exposure.

We’ve only visited a few of the plentiful huge spotless glistening well-stocked grocery stores so far (trying to find our favorite), but the price shocks in all of them have been staggering. We found that for a mere $8 you could get ONE of the following, a pint of Haagen Daaz, a packet of Ready Made baby spinach, or a small container of raspberries or blueberries. We opted for none. I found a bottle of Stonewall Kitchen jam for around $24 that sent me gasping and running off to find my husband to share in the oxygen-sucking moment!

Our last few receipts included a bag of frozen mixed vegetables for $3.10 (and that was the cheapest I could find), a regular packet of fresh mushrooms for $3.95, a small jar of Folgers French Roast coffee was $6.84, and a bag of generic cat litter was over $12.

We were able to find relatively inexpensive (meaning a price equivalent to what we’d pay in the states, but never what we paid in Cairo) items like rice, sugar, off-brand canned chickpeas, apples and oranges. But those are definitely not the norm. I think it will just come down to some diligent searching and deciding whether we can live without the American or German toilet paper for $10, and survive with the $4 toilet paper from Saudi Arabia or Indonesia. We’re strong, I believe we can do it.

Amongst all the gasping, there are moments of calm. There’s a definite comfort in seeing lots of recognizable brands. However, you pay for that recognition. I was delighted to see that there are lots of vegetarian comfort foods here, including soy cheese, soy yogurt, soymilk, veggie hotdogs and burgers, and even soy bologna slices! But the delight ceases after the initial recognition-high and you see the prices. The veggie Italian sausages that always seem to accompany me in my luggage are available here! Of course, they’re $9 for four sausages. I shall continue to divvy out my smuggled supply one bite at a time in order to savor the bliss and save the cash. Last week I ventured out for quick grocery foray with the help of a taxi. I told him “Sultan Center in Sha’ab, please.” He said, “Which one?” Oh, dear, there’s more than one? I actually told him, “Doesn’t matter, you pick.” Expat wife, indeed. But the trip was fine and I managed to get my bearings and follow along the route. The one shop, of the three apparently in the Sha’ab area, that he chose was a smaller store, but very posh. It was like a small Whole Foods or gourmet store. I perused the fresh veg looking to be inspired for dinner, but instead of inspiration I found myself needing oxygen. One head of fresh broccoli was $7!! I was afraid to even touch it, let alone check to see if the roots were golden. I grabbed some bread, a few cans of catfood and a bottle of juice. In the end, the groceries cost me as much as the cab there and back, about $14. Hmm, I didn’t think I’d be longing for those days of the $2 dilapidated Cairo cabs and the ability to buy a trunk-load of carrots from your car for $5 quite so soon. Regardless, we must forge on. So, I shall prepare myself accordingly for future grocery outings with my shoulders back, list in hand, recycled bags at the ready, sturdy credit card prepped, and a quick hit of oxygen before heading in to find the latest gilded veg.