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Monday, March 7, 2011

Across the Pond- Sabzi Wala

If this is your time first to take a walk across the pond, then you can read all about what it is HERE. While I don't always tell you about the latest tourist craze, I hope to share with you the lives of the locals. It's usually something tourists/foreigners don't get to see, but something I have been blessed to experience.

I am rather odd, just in case you hadn't noticed by now. I notice things others often don't and find totally mundane everyday things to be extremely fascinating. Today I thought I would share with you some of those everyday mundane things that we all do, but how they are done very differently on the other side of the globe.

Grocery Shopping

Every one does it but most people hate it especially if you have younger children that you have to drag along with you. A five minute shopping trip can quickly turn into an hour long headache. In Pakistan, at least where I live, the concept of "frozen or prepackaged" food doesn't exist. While you will find a few items at the local bazaar (market) that are frozen or prepackaged, they are often out of date and extremely expensive. Everything here is cooked fresh. The veggies still have dirt on them from where they were harvested and the eggs still have chicken poop on them from being gathered quickly to be taken to the bazaars and sold.

While most people in USA or UK, go shopping once a week or month, the women here go daily to buy fresh veggies for whatever they plan to cook that night. So as you can imagine having to drag along 3 screaming kids every single day to the bazaar is more than any mother would want to do.

Locals know this and in the villages/suburbs they have devised a system that not only provides a source of income for people who might not otherwise have a job, it also helps to ease the lives of the women. The answer to this is the sabzi  wala (vegetable vendor).

For the first week I was in Pakistan at 8 am every day 7 days a week, I would hear this voice call out loudly,

"Aloo lo                           (buy the potatoes)
Palock lo                         (buy the spinach)
Mattar lo                         (buy the peas)
Aloo das rupee ka kilo  (potatoes are 10 rupees per kilo)"

The first few times I just ignored it, but after hearing it every morning for a week, I finally opened my curtains to peek outside to see what it was. That was the first time I saw a sabzi wala (vegetable seller).

People do one of two things. They either grow some vegetables themselves or they go to the local market and buy things like potatoes, green peas, spinach, garlic etc. These are the things people use on an almost daily basis. Then they load up their cart which is attached to a bicycle or pushed from behind and go through the alleyways shouting whatever it is they have for sale. They charge 1 or 2 rupees more than the bazaars but wouldn't you rather pay a few pennies extra if someone delivered your groceries right to your front door? However, don't think the women will get cheated. They know what the prices are in the market so if one of these sabzi walas tries to charge them too much, then the women tell him to take a hike. Pakistani women are great at this. It is an art learned from watching their mothers haggle over prices day in and day out. 

A doodh wala (milk seller) also delivers freshly squeezed milk right to your door. Every morning he rides up on his motorcycle beeping his horn. He milks the cows, goats, or buffalo depending on whichever he has and brings the milk straight to your door. The milk is ladled out of his big containers into your own pot or container. One ladle is equal to half a kilo.

There are also kela walas (banana sellers), aam walas (mango sellers), and the list goes on and on. Fruits and vegetables are also sold by season. So in the winter months the sabzi walas sell things like mattar (green peas) and gujjar (carrots). Then during the summer months, they will have bhindi (okra), bengan (eggplant), and kerala (bitter gourd). Household items are also sold but not daily like the fruits and vegetables. Once a week they will come through with laundry detergent, dish detergent, soap, etc. Pretty much all the basic things you use everyday. 

While there are no council orders and no colored bins to separate plastics from glass, recycling is a vital part to the Pakistani existance. My MIL keeps all of the empty plastic soda bottles, shampoo bottles etc. Pretty much any plastic container that is emptied is given to her and she puts it in a big plastic shopping bag upstairs. Then once a week someone will come by and purchase these old empty bottles. Paying a few rupees per kilo. Either reusing them in some way for their own business or melting the plastic down and re-selling it to others. There is also a jooti wala (shoe seller) that buys old and broken shoes. He either repairs and resells them or removes the leather and plastic from them. Again either melting them down for his own reuse or to sell to others. Even our left over or moldy bread is saved. Every few days the chan bura will come along. He buys your left over or moldy bread. Then he mixes it with some seeds and grinds it to make bird seed which he then sells to people who keep birds in their homes.

In Pakistan, you must be creative to survive. Finding jobs in places that you wouldn't necessarily think to find them. There is one man who in winter sells garam ande (boiled eggs) and in summer sells kulfi (traditional pakistani ice cream usually pistachio or mango flavored).

I remember the first time I ate kulfi. Everyone had gone off to work and my MIL had gone to visit a relative in another city. Bajee (my middle sister in law) and I were home alone and the kulfi wala came by. Hearing his shouts she jumped up and ran outside. I had no idea what "kulfi" was. She returned with a stick with what looked to be a candle on the other end. She was so happy to be the first to share this with me and I didn't want to disappoint her. I took the "candle looking stick" from her and stared at it for a moment. Not sure if I was suppose to eat it or light it.

Quickly I grabbed my phone and started to text ShahJee to ask him what kulfi was and what I was suppose to do with it. At that moment it dripped onto my hand and then I realized it was some sort of ice cream concoction. So I took a little taste. To my surprise it was very good. I text my husband just to find out exactly what it was. He replied saying just eat it you will like it. So I did eat it and I did like it. For about an hour that is.

This is a tip to all visitors in a foreign land. Do NOT eat the local ice cream UNLESS it is prepackaged in a store. Even if they sell it in a restaurant do not eat it. I am somewhat lactose intolerant. Until the age of 7 I couldn't eat any dairy and as I have grown older I am somewhat more tolerant than before. I can have an ice cream cone occasionally and I can drink milk in my tea without any worries. However, I cannot drink milk that has just been squirted from a cow's udder and has not gone through any sort of pasteurization process. This is how some of the traditional kulfi walas make their own ice cream.

While I do love the taste of kulfi, I do not eat it. I stick with the store bought kind. It's not as delicious but I don't have to worry about spending the next 2 days praying to the porcelain god.

While we all appear to be different on the outside, in reality we are all very similar.

Thanks for allowing me to take you for a walk across the pond. While this is the lighter side of Pakistani living, I have written a few articles on wikinut about the difficulties people face everyday such as Loadshedding and Inflation. If you want to know more, then just click the links to find out.


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