23 April 2014

Kinshasa FAQs: Grocery Shopping

There is an art to grocery shopping in Kinshasa. It is learned through trial and tribulation and accidentally paying $20 for a melon. Most grocery runs are actually marathons because it is nearly impossible to go to one store and get everything you need - on a budget. Our families dispatch the most willing shoppers, the men of the house. Mostly because Jill and I can go longer than them without eating. On a good day, a trip takes 3-4 hours and only leaves us several hundred dollars poorer.

Groceries in Kinshasa are expensive. There's no way around it. We've learned to deny ourselves many items, and celebrate in the adrenaline rush of a $5 box of expired cereal. But be careful with produce and check your receipts. Everyone has fallen victim to this scenario at one point or another:

Mandarins: $23

Mandarins: $3 (neighboring store)

Here's a rundown of our favorite stores. Of course there are many, many others. A comprehensive shopping trip will take me (read: Adam) to at least 4 of the following places:

City Market: Avenue de L'Equateur

Pros: City Market is a possible one-stop grocery store. Most everything you need can be found here. Pets, groceries, sporting equipment, school supplies, and hookahs galore! Tip: Head for the promotion section first. Our favorite finds there have been Craisins, pickled peppers and Fruit Roll-ups. So good.

Cons: Most items are imported and thus prohibitively expensive. Sometimes crazy expensive. Therefore, City Market is more of a one-stop shop for the single guy UN worker. Not so much for the teacher's family.

A word about pricing in grocery stores. Most of the time they're found on charts scattered throughout the store. Each item has a number and letter code. Then you have the task of matching the code with the price on the nearest chart. Like this...

Example: This Turbo-Jet Steam Iron is E08. According to the chart, E08 costs 19,521 FC. Simple as that. There are many theories as to why this ridiculous system exists. Feel free to weigh in below.

Back to the rundown.

GG Mart: Avenue Tombalbaye

Pros: This Indian-owned grocery store is relatively new on the scene, but if I had to pick a one-stop place, GG's my choice. Their prices are good on just about everything and they have a large selection. Tip: If you have a TASOK ID, you get a discount!

Cons: There are several enticing promotion tables, but steer clear. We've ended up with too many bug-filled boxes of cereal and pasta. And moldy veggie burgers.

Fooled again by that promotion table!

Hasson et Frère: Avenue des Aviateurs, across from the U.S. Embassy

Pros: Another one-stop option. Hasson et Frère's website (!) claims they're the largest department store in Central Africa. I might add quotes around "largest" and "department store." But they do have lots of things at Kinshasa-reasonable prices. Including cheap liquor and mini shopping carts for the kids. What more can you ask for? Plus the only grocery store bathroom (it's upstairs...for 200FC).

Cons: You have to pay for produce, meat and cheese at a separate cash register at the back of the store. They won't tell you this until you're at the front checking out the rest of your items. Closed on Saturdays. Constantly rearranging. What's the deal, Hasson?

Kin Marche: Avenue Mpolo Maurice, across from Kin Mart

Pros: I quite like Kin Marche. It's dumpy, the AC is rarely working, and it's located across from the higher priced Kin Mart, so I feel like they've gotta have good deals. We get juice, canned foods and flat bread here. As long as we've lived in Kin, an extremely attractive security guard with a million dollar smile has worked outside. Hypnotized by this smile, Adam buys him a Snickers every time we're there. Over six years, that's a lot of Snickers. Totally worth that smile.

Cons: Not really your best option for one-stop shopping. Parking can be impossible. But this is when the Snickers relationship comes in handy.

Extra Plus: Avenue de L'Equateur, on the opposite side of 30 Juin from City Market

Pros: Extra Plus is a good size, never crowded grocery store. It's Portuguese-owned, so there's quite a selection of nice European sundries. Oh and their rolls are incredible. This is our stop for meat, cheese, bread, and milk. We spend a good fraction of our salary on our girls' milk drinking habits, so we get our milk here. By the flat. They also have a nice local and imported produce section. Tip: They'll give you a discount (remise) on your total of $50 or more. But you might have to remind them. Oh! And my favorite feature of Extra Plus - they blast Celine Dion.

Cons: Expensive cleaning supplies, paper products, canned foods and pretty much everything else I didn't mention above. Sometimes they give you your change in candy. Good for the kids, weird for the adults. Also, they blast Celine Dion.

SIECO (aka the Portuguese Store):  Avenue Lokonga

Pros: Small, but Kinshasa-great prices on most everything. When we first moved to Kin, SIECO was the only store with prices posted in USD and they didn't use the chart system. Alas, I think they got in trouble with the government for making the shopping experience too easy, so they had to switch to scavenger hunt style pricing.

Cons: Located at the end of 30 Juin in a hard-to-find corner of the city. (Take the right at the end of the boulevard and then the first left. Go until the road ends. Voila, SIECO.) Closed on Sundays.

Iyafu (aka the Indian Store): Avenue de Marche, around the corner from the original N'ice Cream

Pros: Bulk dry goods. Raisins, dry coconut, spices and tons of dry legumes. Also, Gripe Water! Rumor has it a Dr. Pepper or two have been spotted there.

Cons: Small selection of other items.  

Shoprite: Avenue de l'OUA

Our initial excitement for Shoprite has waned.

Pros: When Shoprite first opened, we got a little excited (see photo from our original post about its opening above). It was the first chain grocery store and it was kind of a life-changer. But like many grocery stores in Kinshasa, it opened with excellent prices, then joined everyone else in the trend of high prices for some items, low prices for others.

Cons: Watch out for their "promotions." Take note of the price for these items as they ring up at the cash register; sometimes you don't get the posted promotion price. I'm told by my African auditor friends this is a common scheme in stores like this.

Tip: Put your promo items through the checkout first. Then you can catch any "errors" before they've totaled your bill.

All in all, grocery shopping in Kinshasa is getting cheaper and easier. I think. Or I might have lost perspective. Kinshasa shoppers, what do you think? And are there stores I've left out that you like? How about Regal, Peloustore, Kin Mart, Netty's, etc...

And if you're moving to Kinshasa and you like to hyper-analyze photos (like me), you might want to see what you can get at grocery stores. Here are a few images from various places.

Baby gear.

A variety of appliances. 

Cheese counter.

Goma Cheese. (About $11 a wheel these days.)


Cereal, for that special occasion.

Baking equipment.

Laundry detergent.

Charts. And more charts.

Lastly, let us pause to reflect on $25 strawberries. They're going like hot cakes.

Previous Kinshasa FAQs: The Airport.

16 April 2014

Don't Forget These Things

It's sobering to realize that I'll forget 98% of the past three years.

I'll fill my brain with other moments and my hours in Africa will be crowded out.  It makes me feel sick and a little relieved.  Give me three weeks out of this country and all the things that matter so much at 7:44pm on a Tuesday night in April will just slip away.

So, I'm taking notes like a patient preparing for amnesia.  Don't forget these things:

Sulky boys on porches.  Little red sandals.

Dress up in the rainforest.

Dewy morning school prep.

Nounou's samosas.

Fresh baby fists at the maternity centers.

First birthdays and rare raspberries.

Sleepy reads. (Lord of the Rings this week).

Impromptu concert after an important purchase.

Photos in the bathroom mirror.

French lessons at this table.

Rain like never before.

Mosquito net movies.

Locker art.

Games on the field.


Steamy days.

Soccer field mushroom harvest.

Nontraditional celebrations and sink sitting.

This. This. This.  Don't forget this.

13 April 2014

Weekend List!

Lists are Back!

Jill's List:

Say what?  (Homeland + Cape Town fans, you will be happy.)

Elias.  On the lookout for threats to national security in Cape Town.

The daily rituals of artists.  I learned that in order to be brilliant, I may have to up my caffeine consumption and consider a daily, public ice bath.  (You should also check out Info We Trust.)

Teaching children how to apologize.  What do you think?


How are you feeling about the Colbert announcement?  This is a pretty great retrospective-summary-reflection.  The bit about Neutral Milk Hotel at the end really got me.

After observing/participating in hundreds of labors and births as a nurse, it really, really seems that the women who are the least "prepared" end up with the nicest birth experiences.  I have definitely seen internet-induced anxiety interfere with perfectly normal childbirth.  This article seems to agree.

My advice: Take pictures of yourself in the mirror instead of Googling-while-pregnant.

Oh, so sad.  Bye, Piecora's!

And I'm also sad about this maybe-closing.  I spent $50 on pens last July at this place.  I was kind of hoping to go back-to-school shopping here with my boy... (See, I even wrote an ode on this very blog.)

And for those of you in Kinshasa...start training!  The 2014 Kima Mbangu 5K Run/Walk (here's last year's event page) is scheduled for Saturday, May 17th.  We spent some hours filming a very entertaining promo video this weekend.  (Thanks, soccer guys who helped with this flashback scene.) A still:

Sarah's List:

In honor of the return of Weekend Lists, here are some lists.

14 Celebrities that look like Mattresses. Seriously.

9 Children's Book Morals for Adults.

20 Amazing Children's Room Ideas. #12 genius (and possible).


20 Rare Historical Photos. NASA before PowerPoint. Ha!

A new approach to sex ed for boys

Are we all in agreement that Comic Sans is terrible? I mean really, really terrible. So terrible that it's getting a makeover. What do you think of Comic Neue? Download it for free!

By bancomicsans.com (http://bancomicsans.com/pdf/nocomicsans8164.pdf) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pope Benedict's only flaw: Using Comic Sans.

And how could geniuses make such a weird choice?

Why UPS Trucks Don't Turn Left.

Everything you've ever wanted to know about tipping. Where does your demographic fall on the Tipping Spectrum?

And if you've been within earshot of me in the last 3 weeks, I've been preaching executive summaries of "The Overprotected Kid." Just in case you missed it, you must read it. Let's stop watching our kids!

8 April 2014

3 Tips for a Successful Medical Evacuation

Now that Jill is not dead we can all laugh about her troubles. Which truly is the best possible outcome. As previously noted, Jill was evacuated to South Africa a few weeks ago for a virus that could not be diagnosed nor treated in Congo, which led to a corneal ulcer. Which led to much misery.

Let's fast forward and begin with a photo of Jill recovered and about to be discharged from her hospital room in South Africa. Spoiler alert: Jill is fine now. Strangely there is no photo documentation of her suffering in Congo.

When it became clear that Jill was not getting better in Kinshasa and could not get better anywhere in this country, we knew she needed to leave. But like any rational person on their death bed in Congo, she said no. I mean, think about the last time you were sick. The thought of picking yourself up and going to work feels impossible. So when we proposed to Jill that she would need to pack a suitcase for an indeterminable amount of time, leave her house, drive to the airport, fight N'djili, then walk on a plane, she gave us a look like, nope that ain't happenin'. It's much easier to languish in Congo than make this trip. This would not be a medevac via helicopter scenario. This was a commercial air/DIY medevac.

But we did it in 3 easy steps:

1- Lie. I told Jill the car would take her straight to the plane. All she had to do was walk out of her house and then walk up the airplane steps. This clearly was never happening, but it made the journey seem more manageable. We ended up arriving at the airport 6 hours before the flight with much waiting ahead of us. Whoopsie!

2- Cheat. It turns out if you're wearing an eye patch, look pathetic, and have a really bossy friend in tow, doors will open. Literally. We made our way into the diplomat's lounge. We did not check ourselves into our flight, we did not check our own luggage. We did not even enter the airport. This was all taken care of for us.

We just sat in the lounge for 6 hours, which was conveniently located next to the airport's latest construction project and thus a few feet from a jackhammer. I did not account for this glitch, so I forced a Percocet down Jill's throat as she listened to the audiobook of Bossy Pants (because remember, she couldn't see) and in solidarity, I read my own hard copy. Tina Fey always saves the day. In retrospect: a precious moment. At the time: the worst 6 hours of the whole ordeal.

From that point on, we cheated the rest of our way through. Turns out when you shout: Medical Evacuation! Urgence! and Step aside, blind girl coming through! You can make your way to the front of every line from here to the hospital in South Africa.

3- Steal. Jill had been sick for several weeks before her evacuation. We were led to believe that her Congolese doctors knew what they were doing. That she would get better. But in fact the situation was quite the opposite.   

A funny kind of PTSD comes over you when you're in the hands of a questionable doctor, and then it turns out he's completely incompetent and might have actually blinded you. You learn to trust no one. Therefore we convinced ourselves that even though every medical professional at one of South Africa's best hospitals (shout out, Sandton Mediclinic!) was lovely and capable, there's a chance they might not actually be doing their job. Because we had trust-no-one-PTSD. Were they really giving Jill her meds every 4 hours?! Had they woken her up overnight? I bet these people are incompetent!

So we stole her chart to take a look for ourselves. And in it we found the kindest, most careful medical notations. They noted her sleeping patterns. They noted our friendship. "Laughing with friend" and "Having good relations with friend" and "Friend still here, doesn't she have anything better to do? Starting to suspect they're more than just friends." (Kidding, but that's what all the nurses were thinking.)

They also noted their careful administration of her medication overnight. We discovered they were giving her sleeping pills, so they wouldn't disturb her when they needed to give her medicine. To thank all the lovely nurses and apologize for our PTSD, we left them with flowers and our hundreds of gift shop magazines that were starting to swallow us in the hospital room.

Those wonderful women even brought us tea. How could we have ever thought they were less than saintly?

The only evidence I was there. Most likely sorting magazines in Jill's room. 
Captured behind Jill's evening Rooibos tea. That girl's got her priorities straight.

And just like children's hospitals that dress up their window washers in super hero costumes, they knew it would cheer us to send this incredibly beautiful man to clean our window.

We have more pictures of this guy washing the window than of anything else during our trip.

Jill and I sat there the whole time he washed and stared and gazed and giggled. And remarked at his beauty. Our oogling proved to the nurses that 1. It had been a really long time since we had seen our husbands. And 2. We were not actually lesbians. Just really good friends. Really, really "special" friends.

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