Published in Jul-Aug 2021
When the pandemic started in earnest in Pakistan, I had been married for just over a month. As it became apparent that a lockdown was imminent, my dear husband went off to the grocery store and stocked up on what he considered the essentials: canned beans and fruit, grains and pasta, cheese, potato chips (for him), chocolate (for me) and of course, toilet paper. When he called me at work to tell me what he had done, I remember being somewhat amused at his behaviour, but as we spent that first month of the lockdown almost exclusively holed up in our apartment, those groceries were lifesavers.
Eventually stocks ran low and we planned our first pandemic grocery shopping trip with all the precision of a war strategy. We made a very detailed list and mapped our progress through the store with the objective of minimising the time spent in there. It was a harrowing trip and since we had not gotten round to buying face masks yet, we used bandanas to cover our faces and looked like a couple of bank robbers on a furtive errand. Looking back now, I think we must have appeared hilarious and ridiculous but such were those initial, anxiety-ridden days.
As the lockdown wore on and anxiety turned into restlessness, we began to view our grocery shopping differently. It started when we decided to buy a small electric oven. In order to be safe, we decided we would buy the appliance from a large supermarket as opposed to an electronics market (not that the latter was open anyway). Then we chose a time when said supermarket was least likely to be crowded and off we went. As we explored the options and chose various complementary supplies (baking pans, a weighing scale, etc.), for a short while we forgot all about the pandemic.
That we were able to buy a medium sized electronic appliance in the throes of the pandemic felt like something of an achievement and what’s more, we actually enjoyed the process. It also occurred to us that grocery shopping afforded us some of the joys that Covid and its restrictions had stolen – a chance to go out, face-to-face human interaction with people other than the two of us (Zoom calls can only do so much!), an opportunity to meet friends (we would occasionally run into friends and even family at the supermarket) and the ability to get off social media and experience the world, even if it was a rather limited experience.
When we got tired of going to the giant supermarket at the mall and felt we had exhausted the exploration of all its treasures, we tried our neighbourhood gourmet market which had all the fancy chocolates, candies, cheeses, ice creams and specialised cleaning products, but was still spacious enough to practice social distancing. When another fancy supermarket announced on social media that it had recently installed a sanitising tunnel at the entrance, we checked that out as well just for the sheer novelty of the experience. Then, depending on what we needed to stock up on and on our general mood, we would alternate between two or three supermarkets. It may all sound a bit crazy and over the top but then again we never thought we would experience a pandemic during our lifetimes.
Did our grocery bill increase? Yes, significantly. Did we gain weight from eating too many supermarket snacks? Yes. Did we gain anything from the experience? Yes, we went out and explored what was available. We managed to make a little Vitamin D from getting out in the sun, and our grocery shopping trips were mostly a pleasurable and occasionally even an entertaining experience (like when we watched a Chinese couple loading up with two huge trolleys worth of cleaning products). And when the world is going crazy and everything you know is being turned upside down, sometimes you just have to make the most of what you get – even if it means turning to grocery shopping for entertainment!
Marylou McCormack is a former member of Aurora’s editorial team. firstname.lastname@example.org