Monday, February 13, 2012

Even shopping shakes your self-confidence

It has been a humbling experience to be a stranger in a strange land. As I posted earlier, the search for housing earlier this month reduced my partner and I to a pair of puzzled children following behind the various kind-hearted souls who were willing to help us. This week’s search for housewares to go in our new casa has been equally baffling.
We are veterans of the Canadian shopping experience - which is to say, we know how to go into some big mall or gigantic store-with-everything and load up our cart with the things we need. If I were looking to outfit a house in Victoria with cutlery, towels, pots and pans, a coffee maker and so on, I’d have my choice of many stores where I could get everything I needed in one swoop.
Not so in Copan Ruinas. For starters, there’s no mall here. There are no big stores, either, or even very many small ones.
Nor is there a single store that specializes in housewares - or anything else for that matter. For the most part, they all sell a little of this and a little of that. You really just have to poke your head in the door and see what’s on the shelves, which often turns out to be a random assortment of office supplies, brassieres, motorcycles, shoes, used clothing and kitchenware.
I did my first reconnaissance by myself on Thursday and concluded that much of what we needed wasn’t going to be available in Copan. But then our Spanish teachers kindly took Paul and I on a walkabout the next day and I realized that I simply hadn’t understood how to look for what we needed.
For instance, I’d walked right by Zapatos Faby the previous day, having presumed that a shoe store wouldn’t have housewares. But in fact, the store’s name turned out to be just a lingering remnant from a previous incarnation. It actually sold an eclectic mix of toaster ovens, dish sets, dressers, file cabinets and more. I’d also walked past the intimate-apparel store, Lovables, but a closer look in the company of our teachers revealed shower curtains, cutlery and coffee pots.
The main furniture store in town has a row of shiny new motorcycles out front that it also sells. I hear the store sells bicycles, too, something I’m considering for my daily commute to the Comision de Accion Social Menonita. We asked about buying cylinders for our gas stove and it turned out that every day on our way to Spanish school we’d walked blithely past the unassuming house where the canisters are sold (and fresh tortillas).
I bought a quilt for our bed through the woman who runs our homestay, who knew somebody who knew somebody who happened to have a very nice one. We’re shopping for a sofa using the same technique - word of mouth, which appears to be how virtually everything gets done in this little town.
We’d have never found the cable company office if our teachers hadn’t walked us down a skinny little dead-end street and a dusty construction site to find the entrance. Nor would we have known that the meter man would read our hydro meter a couple times a month, stick a bill on our door, and then we’d go pay it at the bank. The teachers also took us into the mercado and introduced us to their favourite vendor, a religious woman known for having quality fruits and vegetables at fair prices.
Our supply of purified water? We’ll buy it off trucks that drive around the neighbourhood every day. Our garbage pickup? We’ve been advised to ask our neighbours about when the garbage truck comes - not just the day but the exact hour, because garbage left at the curb for any length of time is quickly ripped apart by the hungry, sick dogs that are  everywhere in Copan.
Give us six months or so and we’ll be old hands at all of this (maybe). And if learning new things really is the ticket for preventing Alzheimer’s, we’re going to have brains of steel.

1 comment:

Ian Lidster said...

This reminds me so much of shoppint on Rarotonga, but at least we weren't trying to outfit a residence. That would have been horrifically challenging. Yes, we are so inured in our 'culture' that we have no inkling of the lives of others.
Am enjoying your adventures.