The Wegmans Wannabe

Wegmans is like the IKEA of grocery stores.  It is a scene. You go there just to go there, and make up something you need to buy.  This morning I was dreaming about walking around Wegmans with a pumpkin spice latte and loading up my cart with fall, carmely, high frictose corn syrupy things.  Then I woke up on our plastic foam mattress in Nepal. “Oh right, there is no Wegmans in Kathmandu.”

There is a western style (carts and check out lines) grocery store in Kathmandu called Bhat Bahatini.  A new one opened not far from our neighborhood.  We figured this would be a good place to kick off our transition to food shopping in Nepal.

We took a cab. Since we speak no Nepali yet our strategy for cabs is to just say the name of the place and hope the driver knows where it is.  “New Bhat Bahatini?” said our driver.  “Yes, new one,” we confirmed and we were off, feeling successful in our cab getting abilities.

There were no functioning seat belts.  Dave sat in the front with our daughter on his lap (a la Brittney Spears style) and our son and I were in back.  I watched the lovely temples, interesting shops and beautiful people out the window and had a proud ‘this is my new city’ moment.

“Ummm? says Dave from the front seat, “Are we supposed to cross the river?”
“No!” I said alarmed. Moment ruined. “It is only supposed to be a couple of miles away.”

Shoot, where was this guy taking us?  And more importantly, how would we get back? Rendered mute by our inability to speak Nepali, Dave tried some hand motion, interpretive dance sort of thing to communicate to the driver. “Just there” pointed the driver, yet we drove for another ten minutes past the run down temples, endless shops and massive amounts of people.

We finally pulled off somewhere. The driver pointed with a cheeky grin, “Bhat Bhatini” he said.  He had brought us to the original Bhat Bhatini in a neighborhood in the north part of the city and not the new one in our own neighborhood. Our whiny children had not survived the long crazy taxi ride well and I was fuming.  “You just wait till I learn Nepali mister,” I thought to myself as I dug out the cab fare, “You won’t get a chance to hose me again.”  The cab fare was 400 rupees and I only had a 500 bill.  I asked the cab driver for change and he shrugged that he had none.  I let rip a string of English to the effect that he had run up the meter dragging us all over town and now was trying to charge us over the fare!  Either the driver’s English was better than he let on or he caught my drift, and suddenly remember where he had a 100 bill.

The Wegmans wannabe store was overwhelming. There were walls of food, brands we had never heard of, languages we couldn’t read, and pictures of things that didn’t look edible.  The isles were sometimes too narrow for a cart and had boxes of food and rolls of toilet paper crowding the space.  It was a two person effort, one of us would clear a path and the other would attempt to get the cart though.  Anyway we got out of there with stress levels only slightly higher, and then came the issue of how to get home.

In our over confidence, stupidity, or simple rush to get out the door we had not brought a map.  There are no street names in Kathmandu so directions are given by landmarks.  We have one landmark near our flat we use with other cab drives but on this side of town no one knew it.  Apparently it sounded familiar to one guy and he gave another cab driver directions.  I caught the name of our neighborhood, “Right, Yes Jawalkhel!” and we all loaded up in the cab.

If the first cab driver was trying to rip us off, this cab driver was trying to scare us off.  The side view mirrors had been turned in allowing an extra 6 inches on either side of the cab to get as close to other cars, bikes, motorcycles and medians as possible.  We were squeezing through spaces at 30 miles an hour that Dave said he wouldn’t ride his bike though at 10 miles an hour.   I sat in the back white knuckling the ‘oh shoot’ handle on the door and fake breaking while Dave was in front wincing and sweating.  Our irritatingly stress free daughter laughed and clapped her hands while our son simply conked out in the back seat.

So our first grocery trip was no Wegmans, but we have since learned to leave our children at home, walk to the store and then take a cab back and ummm well I guess we got a good story out of the whole deal.