What an extravagance. What a light. What a space. The first feelings I had when I entered a supermarket just being back in Europe were awe and wonder.
The average size of a supermarket in the Netherlands is about 1.000 square metres. Five types of peanutbutter, thirty types of fruit juice, three varieties of melon, it’s quite normal and it’s always there. There’s a lot of space, two shopping trolleys can easily pass each other and the lines of people waiting for the check-out counters don’t bother the other shoppers. Entering such a supermarket I couldn’t help but wonder what my South Sudanese colleagues would think of this. Probably they wouldn’t know what to do with a lot of things. Cruesli? Liquorice? Pre-processed vegetables cannot be fresh food, but to sell food for the goats in a shop? What would really impress them is the variety of vegetables, meat and especially dairy products available. Most people in South Sudan know there are great cows in the Netherlands, producing a lot of milk.
A supermarket in Wau measures on average 25 square metres. You enter through one glass door into a shop where it is just possible to stand between all products. The walls left and at the end of the shop are covered with shelves packed with different products. Beans and peas of ever-changing variety, jam, oils. What was available yesterday or last week, most probably is not today. And next month it will be different again. On the counter the same things, piled up so high that the vendor behind it is not visible anymore. Before the counter another shelf with sweets and biscuits. At the right side the shelves with cleaning products and a few small fridges. Not real cold fridges, but at least it stops the chocolate bars from melting. Between the counter and the fridges there is a space left of about half a meter width to enable the customers to step inside. Or better, the customer, because when there are two or more, no one will be able to move anymore. They don’t have a cash register, counting is done without electronics or paper (count for yourself might be a good idea, although when buying more products you’ll get a discount anyway). The money goes into the pockets of the vendor right away. Fresh products are not available in such a supermarket at all, they’re only for sale at the market.
At the market it’s always obvious which season it is, especially at the vegetable stalls. In the watermelon season there will be piles of watermelon everywhere, when it is mango season there will be lots of mangos for sale, and so on. Vegetables will be sold on stalls most of the times, fruit quite often simply on the ground. In the Dutch supermarket is was an innovation to spray the vegetables with water to keep them looking fresh. In Wau they have known that for a long time. No fancy nebulizer needed, a simple plant spray or wet towel will do just fine.
Meat is available as well. The stalls have a counter where the meat is lying or hanging the whole day until it’s sold. To keep the flies away the butchers burn incense. Behind the counter is a tiled storage where they keep the big pieces of meat and probably use for slaughtering as well (though I’ve never seen it happen). If you would like minced meat, you don’t buy it minced from the butcher. You buy a piece of meat and walk two metres to another guy with a mincer. Give him the meat and, if you would like, some onions as well. He can cut off a bit of grease if you wish and puts the meat in the mincer. Plastic bag at the other side, turn on the power, and there you will have minced meat. Strangely enough there are hardly any dairy products available at the market. Strange, because there are a lot of cows. The cattlekeepers survive on the dairy their cows produce and are hardly able to sell something from it. So milk comes as powdered milk. Sometimes sterilised milk from a middle eastern country is available, but quite often it’s sweetened. Not to my liking!