|Courtesy of Maria|
Grocery stores. These seem to be a common trigger for many people returning to the USA from overseas. I have been asked numerous times if going into the grocery store made me cry, or have panic attacks, or go and start rocking in the corner next to the discount bin. It is mentioned in most of the re-entry literature as something to avoid or approach with great awareness. The number of options and variety are supposed to be overwhelming and a clear indication of the privilege we experience here that many will never enjoy. While I do not disagree with these statements, and acknowledge for some this is a trigger, my traumatic grocery store experience was a little different. This is not to say that I do not really miss my market ladies, like my produce lady pictured above. This Auntie would always greet me with such enthusiasm, asked about my recent travels, let me know what produce was good, showed concern for my weight loss. She also had tears in her eyes when I told her I was moving back to my country and I didn't know when I would be back. Needless to say, not exactly the huge, big-box grocery store experience most of us have in the USA.
There were some things that I did get at the supermarket and not the market, because sometimes you just need pasta and peanut butter (generally not together). In Cambodian supermarkets, which exist in the big cities, there are dozens more employees than I think we would say are necessary to have working at any given time. For that reason, sometimes, an employee will follow you around the store, not necessarily asking if you need help (they don't need to, their stalker like tracking of your every move implies that they are there to help). Sometimes, they outright ignore you and may even block the pasta shelf, oblivious to the fact that perhaps they should not get in the way of paying customers. Either way, there are lots of them around, which was often commented on as a point of frustration by other ex-pats, or business majors. So, on a recent trip to the local store, you can imagine my disbelief at not one lone employee aimlessly wandering the store lest a newly repatriated lady can't find the Lactaid. For those who have never shopped with me, I am an 'on-a-mission' shopper. I regularly enter and ask where things are without trying to find them because it just simplifies the process, plus it gives someone else the joy that comes with being helpful and offers the opportunity for human interaction.
But, here, my employee tracking skills are a bit off. I spotted a gentleman wearing what appeared to be a store uniform and cautiously approached trying to see if it was the uniform for that store. And, here is where the traumatic re-entry part comes and why I think our official re-entry week should have included a photo slide show of uniforms associated with major chain stores in the areas where we are going to be living. Think about it. If you shop regularly at Target, Safeway, or any other store and are a somewhat observant person, you know the uniform of those employees (maybe subconsciously). After almost four years outside those norms, I have no idea. The store's logo is red, so I figured a red shirt could be their uniform.
My new friend looked up and apparently saw the inquisitive, somewhat confused look on my face (likely my tongue was hanging out of my mouth as tends to happen when I am deeply contemplating something) to which he responded, "You don't have to act all scared of me. I'm just anutha brutha doing his thing." At this point, my face turned as red as his shirt and I tried to explain I was not at all scared of him. I was just trying to figure out if he worked there because I was trying to find the Lactaid. He, though apparently thinking I was not only nuts but also a terrified racist, then proceeded to try to help me find the Lactaid despite the fact he did not even work in the store.
Since, I felt asking for a selfie with this man would have only furthered my oddball status, I instead give you some photos of my other favorite market people from Cambodia, who actually work at the stands in which they are pictured helping me. My fruit lady who would always throw in extra fruit, just because, and who I heard give me better prices than the locals on at least one occasion. And, my banana lady who was my first market friend when I arrived in 2014. Here's to figuring out how to get by when you don't fit (and hopefully not offending anyone too much in the process)!
|Courtesy of Maria|
|Courtesy of Maria|