When I last wrote, I had spent a considerable amount of time waiting in line fruitlessly at the IGA supermarket, followed by waits in other lines, with some shopping success at the end of the day. After evaluating that shopping day, the Grenadian government acknowledged that it had some kinks to work out but opted to keep everyone at home for five more days, stating that it was a critical time to contain the virus. Right now, everyone in Grenada is on a 24-hour curfew, allowed out of our residences only on designated shopping days.
The government announced that there would be two more shopping days on Easter weekend – Saturday and Easter Sunday, and that they would be organized by last name with A-M shopping in the morning on Saturday and N-Z shopping in the afternoon, then reversing the name order for morning and afternoon on Sunday. Kevin, our friend living in Grenada, and I agreed that we would make another shopping attempt and, since we both fell in the same name category, decided to go Saturday morning. We had strategized for days about where and when we would go.
We weren’t technically allowed on the roads until an hour before the shopping day started but it would take 30 minutes for Kevin to get me so we bent that rule a bit. Kevin thought that separating people by name would help alleviate the lines but I worried that after five more days of not shopping, and no future days announced, people would be more desperate.
On the way over to pick me up, Kevin said that he had scanned the line at IGA (the largest supermarket with the best variety where we had waited in line unsuccessfully before) and that it didn’t look too bad, unless the line extended in a different direction that he couldn’t see from the road. Sure enough, as we approached, we saw that the line wound around on a street behind the store rather than around the soccer field. I had Kevin drop me off and said I would hold a place in line while he went to park.
As I walked down the line, it quickly became apparent that it was much, much longer than it had been five days before. Knowing what we knew about the previous line management (basically that there was no management), I texted Kevin and told him to pick me up so we could go to Foodland where we both knew we could get enough groceries and had more confidence that the line would be managed.
That took another 10 minutes so, when we finally got our place in line, it was already 7:30 and the shop opened at 8 am. The novelty of waiting in line had worn thin after our previous experience and our neighbors were not as chatty as before so I spent most of my time trying to find pockets of shade as the line crept forward.
As the hours passed, the line moved in fits and starts. Eventually a staff member came down and was obviously counting people. She did a good job of communicating and it was obvious that she and two other staff members were actively managing the line.
About three hours in, we reached the parking lot and saw that Foodland’s system was to have “checkpoints” for the line. They would move us in roughly 20-person groups which was nice because you had a sense of accomplishment each time you moved past another checkpoint. The most critical, we discovered, was getting into the parking lot. At that checkpoint, a police officer checked your ID to confirm your last name and then you got a precious ticket. These tickets, we learned, were the only way you could get into the store. I was the last in our 20-person group to move into the parking lot.
As Kevin and I moved into the parking lot, we heard raised voices and commotion from the people that had been behind us in line. The store manager and a police officer were communicating with the people who were immediately in line behind us. I asked one of the staff members what was going on and he told me that I was the last one in the morning group. What?! I held the golden ticket?
I was both exhilarated and devastated. You develop a sense of solidarity with those in line around you – I had been chatting with the man behind us for a while and now he was out in the cold and I was sitting by the fire. Except that analogy doesn’t work so well in Grenada because it was quite hot everywhere. But you get the picture.
There I was, with a full cart of groceries in my future and those behind us were going to go home empty-handed. I wasn’t willing to give up my ticket (and it wouldn’t really help much anyway) but I did feel badly that the manager had misled so many people when I had heard her promise all of us that we would get in.
A short time later, a few people got in line behind us. Another employee asked them who had sent them there. I quickly got used to people pointing at me while having heated conversations, realizing that I had now assumed a role as a place marker as “the last one” in the drama of the line. I badly wanted these people to get to stay and tried to will them to act as if they belonged in the line, feeling like “possession being 9/10 of the law” would somehow enter into this situation.
Around the time I was debating if I should verbally urge a man to come closer to us (he was standing hesitantly away from the line while awaiting some kind of verdict about his position), I saw the manager leading a long line of people from the street into the parking lot. She had opted to flout the authorities (by staying open longer or altering the afternoon session) and make good on her promise to everyone she had spoken to that morning. She would let them buy cake!
I will spare you the tedious details of the next three hours. There was some entertainment from the woman I dubbed Loud Lady who was immediately behind us, visible in this photo in the pink and yellow socks and red head scarf.
When we got into the parking lot, she wandered over saying that she had been at the front of the line but they told her to move to the back. She kept muttering about it but I could make no sense of it and there was nothing I could do so I just tried to tune her out. She spoke mainly in the local patois that’s not entirely English and it’s hard for me to understand.
When we turned the corner of the building and the line folded back on itself, she started to increase her volume. She maintained a constant chatter about being tired and done with the line but now she started saying, “I just want to buy me dee wine and go home to my radio and drink me wine and smoke some weed and crochet and dance to my f*ing music!” This is when we realized that Loud Lady had the gift of speaking aloud the things we were all thinking.
In addition to confining us all to our homes and limiting our ability to purchase food, Grenada had also turned off the flow of alcohol, closing all the rum shops and banning the sale of alcohol anywhere for the past week. On this shopping day, the ban was lifted, which might be another reason for the long lines.
A short time later, there was a flurry in the line a short distance in front of us. A woman had collapsed on the ground and people were moving around her, calling for help, trying to give her shade. Since no one was acting with purpose, and because I had nothing else to do, I ran over to make sure she was still breathing and conscious. After I discovered that she was and realized that I had nothing further to offer, I went back to my place in line. At that point, Loud Lady went up to the woman to take her turn to feel like she was helping, then came back to her spot in the line.
She was screwing the lid on a small pot of some kind of cream or unguent and indicated to me that she had helped revive the woman with the smell of it. When she finished putting away her potion, Loud Lady looked around and asked of the line in general, “What happened to the lady?” They answered back that she had been taken inside the store. Loud Lady said, “Well then I’m going to collapse next!”
We all cracked up because, once again, she said what all of us had been thinking. After six hours of waiting in line, we got inside. Signs everywhere urged people to do their shopping in 20 minutes but it was impossible even to move through the aisles because they didn’t route people through the aisles so everything was congested and there was no way to move expeditiously. By the end, Kevin and I just parked our carts in line to check out and walked around, gathering more things to pile on top of everything else. But the store was well-stocked and we got everything we needed.
It was a true sense of victory, going home after a full day of shopping. I had also arranged for some deliveries that Joe was picking up at various docks near the boat, just to hedge our bets in case the supermarket shopping didn’t work out. The meat delivery came through and we’ve been quite pleased with the quality of the meat but the vegetable lady was a bit disorganized and lost our order so we were happy that I was able to buy plenty of produce at the grocery store.
Apart from the thrill of getting groceries, I also ended the day being even more impressed with the Grenadians. Throughout all of the rules and curfews and long lines, they just patiently endure. Very seldom is there a fuss or a ruckus, and, other than Loud Lady, no one complains. You get the feeling that no one will cut in line and that people will help you if you need it.
It’s a neat country and, while I would just as soon there wasn’t a global pandemic, it has certainly given us an opportunity to get to know Grenada better than we would have otherwise. I can’t think of another country we have visited where I knew the name of the Prime Minister, regularly checked the local news, or spent so much time lining up with the locals.
The next day, Easter Sunday, I decided to take a long walk to the pharmacy in the afternoon to get Paul a refill on some needed medication. It was another authorized shopping day and it was my designated time according to our last name so I was following all the rules. As an added benefit, I got in a bit of exercise as the pharmacy was 2 miles away. The roads were much quieter than they had been the day before and I decided to check out the lines at IGA since it was only ten minutes from the pharmacy.
I waited in line for 20 minutes inside the air-conditioned mall and then walked right in to the supermarket and was able to get the few items unavailable at Foodland the day before.
While it was a bit discouraging to realize we could have avoided spending the day in line by just waiting one more day, I didn’t regret spending many hours in line the day before. On the contrary, I was happy to have had that community experience but also happy to see that I may not have to have it again in the future!