Grocery shopping during a pandemic

Over the weekend, I booked an appointment to go grocery shopping at the sultan center in my area. I wanted a morning appointment but only evening slots were available. All day long, I added and subtracted items from the shopping list on my phone, calculating the amount of stuff I could reasonably find in 30 minutes. Did we really need another bottle of bleach right now? Or will what we have at home last until the next grocery run so that I can use that time to find frozen edamame beans instead? Do we have enough cereal and milk and if there is no milk left in the cooler when I reach the store, will I have time to get long life from the shelves on the upstairs level? After a while, I give up and leave the list and just hope I can get most of what’s on it.
Finally, it is time to prepare, and so I shower, change and get ready. I’ve never thought of dressing up to go grocery shopping before but now it feels like an adventure, a special occasion, and so I do. Make up. Check. Hair styled. Check. I choose sneakers over heels but still feel as if I’m heading to a party when I walk out the door.
Outside, the street is quiet and dark. Typically on a weekend night in Kuwait in Ramadan, cars would be everywhere, people would be heading to family gatherings or ghabqas or to their favorite restaurants or malls. The only sign of life I see is a street cat digging into the trash bins across the road from our apartment. I get in the car and drive the five minutes to the market. There are no police check points between here and there but I’ve kept my phone out, the barcodes for the appointment email pulled up just in case.
At the market, I arrive a few minutes ahead of the appointment. A line of seven people has already started and I quickly join it, forgetting at first to stay two meters away from the woman in front of me. I want to chat, to say hi and ask her how she’s doing but she’s on her phone and never turns around. So I wait, bouncing from one foot to the other, for the doors to open. In the five minutes of waiting, at least another 20 people queue up. They grab grocery carts and use the carts to create the required distance.
At last, we are allowed in.
But first, a worker checks each phone for the barcode and then another places an electronic thermometer near our forehead, checking for our temperature. Inside we are directed to the table with gloves, hand sanitizer and tissues. I grab some gloves and make a dash for the single elevator. Much of what I want is on the ground floor but I decided to head to the upper level first for a quick walkthrough. The elevator takes forever and I stab the button a dozen times before it finally lands with a thud and dings open. Upstairs, the entire layout of items has been rearranged since my last visit here nearly three months ago. I’m lost and hesitate momentarily, my entire plan of shopping (I’ve written my grocery list in sequence based on the location of items from three months ago!) falls apart!
Ever mindful of the ticking clock, I rush to grab what I might need from this level and then stand again, waiting impatiently for the elevator. When it finally dings, I’ve lost 15 minutes for three items – chips, almond butter and tea bags – and am panicked when I reach the ground floor to find the vegetable section packed with shoppers. More than anything I want fresh veggies, meat and bread, but there’s no meat in the cooler section. There’s plenty of bread and khubbus, but none of my favorite sour dough. Thankfully there are plenty of veggies and I spend a precious seven minutes choosing apples, carrots and fresh herbs.
On my way to the cash register, I grab a small bottle of milk, since all the jugs are gone and two chocolate bars for my daughters. Overall I found about half of the items on my list and totally forget to look for conical shaped coffee filters while upstairs in the tea and coffee aisle. I’m dripping with sweat, red faced, and exhausted from the stress of shopping within 30 minutes.
I’ve been so focused on the time and getting everything on the list that I completely forget to worry that each person passing me in the aisles might have COVID-19 and pray that no one coughs or sneezes on anyone else.
I reach home and my family come to the door to greet me, as if I’d traveled and been gone for ages. The shopping bags are taken from my hand, a glass of cool water offered as I kick off my shoes, plop down on the sofa and recount my grocery adventure.

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