de(tales): grocery store
Saskia and I met, originally, through SheLoves and the wonderful community there. There are those people, I've found, who say something and make you think that they wrote it just for you. Saskia is just such a person. I had the great joy of meeting her in Maastricht and spending a beautiful sunny day getting to know her better. As a result, I now know much more than I ever thought I would about prostitution in Amsterdam, and I have gained a wonderful friend. I know that you will enjoy this poignant, hopeful de(tale).
On (Canadian) Thanksgiving in 2011, I stood alone, crying in the grocery store here in Amsterdam.
The grocery store has always been the place where the reality of travel sinks in for me. Often when I am in a new country, it doesn’t feel real. Until the grocery store. The grocery store is where I know I am not in a familiar place.
That particular Thanksgiving, I was crying because I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. I wanted to make a beautiful meal, but everything was just so much more complicated in a different country. I had been living in Europe for less than six months and I was desperately tired of trying to figure everything out on my own.
Grocery stores have a way of doing that to me. The impersonal experience can feel so vulnerable. Especially when shopping alone. Shopping alone to eat alone. In each new country the grocery store is the place where I realize I don’t have it all together. Whether it is overwhelming me with all the options, or simply overwhelming me with the uncertainty. Some people probably find new grocery stores exhilarating, but I am a creature of food habit. I rotate between my chosen essentials because I am horribly indecisive in environments of plenty.
Take away my essentials and I am lost.
A few weeks after the big meltdown, I was in another grocery store in Amsterdam. This time with a group of friends, we had just come out of church, and we were buying food to make our dinner.
I saw a girl standing alone in front of the vegetables, and I observed her obvious confusion. She caught my eye and asked me a question. I helped her out and then continued to observe her. It was like grocery-store-overwhelmed-me all over again!
She was obviously alone and trying to decide what else to buy. I so got the feeling and my empathy just couldn’t handle it.
That is the weird thing about shopping for food. We all have to do it. But when you are a stranger in a new country, you just show up, and stand in the way, staring at all the options, thinking… Volle? Half-Volle? Biological? What the heck is knoflookboter? (It’s garlic butter by the way).
While all around you people have got their list all figured out and they know exactly what they want to buy.
So I saw this girl, and it was one of those Holy Spirit tugs. I felt like I might come across as a little creepy, but went for it anyway. I asked where she came from (France), what she was up to (school project), how long she was in Amsterdam (just arrived), and then I awkwardly invited her to come for dinner with my friends instead of eating dinner alone.
Forget this attempt at grocery shopping. We are making a nice big meal with people who know exactly what knoflook is. Come and join us.
She did, and we had a fabulous time. I think I made everyone go around and say something they were thankful for (throwback to the Canadian thanksgiving that I didn’t get to have). It was a sweet moment, where I felt community, and the joy of inviting someone else into that community.
Months later, I was in an American grocery store with my little brother and I got stuck in the syrup aisle for a good two minutes. So many different kinds of syrup in one store! Why in the world does there need to be so many syrup options!? Maybe someone can answer this for me?
I felt a little self-righteous in that moment, identifying more with the European grocery store then the North American one. In Europe, I have to go to five different specialty stores to get what I need, non of this one stop shopping with a million different kinds of syrup. Oh the pretentiousness of being a world traveler!
But despite that, it was when I knew I was assimilating to my new home. It reminded me, that I didn’t want to be in this American grocery, or a Canadian grocery store, I wanted to be home, in an Amsterdam grocery store, where dammit, I still can’t find anything to make a good thanksgiving meal with!
I have learned some important lessons in grocery stores. I have confronted my own loneliness, self-righteousness, and inability. I have also learned a little more about Jesus in the grocery store. He was always bumming meals from people – “Hey, I am coming to your house for dinner today.”
I guess he knew that it isn’t nice to eat all your meals alone. I guess there are times I need to be reminded of my own loneliness in order to step outside of myself and make more room for others. Being uncomfortable has allowed me to recognize that same feeling in others.
Responding on the need you see in someone else, even when it is as simple as translating a word or as complicated as addressing loneliness. That’s when Jesus is often the most real to me. When we spread our arms a little wider, saying to those unknown, come and join us. Come and share a meal, share in our thankfulness, be a part of our community.
Don’t do the grocery shopping all alone.
And p.s. if you happen to find out where to buy turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie filling in Amsterdam, share the information, I can’t face another thanksgiving meltdown.
Cool Fact: Saskia means “valley of light.” I have worked in the field of anti-human trafficking for the last six years, but have just given that up to become a law student. I am not organised, not a good sleeper, and not a multi-tasker, thank goodness I am a problem solver. I love my country – Canada, drinking coffee, creating beautiful things, and Cape Town (which was my home for three years). I miss the mountains, snowboarding, surfing, and all things natural as I make my way in the city of Amsterdam (my current home). I blog at Just Saskia occasionally and tweet @saskiacw.