Maayong gabi-i from the Philippines!
One of the things I was most nervous about once I got settled into site life besides cooking, as you probably know already I was inept at it, was going to the market. My feelings had a range of explanations. To begin with, I didn’t know what anything was, IN ANY LANGUAGE. Not only did I not know American ingredients, but I knew Philippino ingredients even less. To make things worse, I spoke no visayan. And then to complicate things a little more, going shopping for food here isn’t quite like shopping for food back home.
Let me explain this last point – the market situation. We have a big store called Prince which is like a department store to the likes of a small scale Walmart. Here you can buy anything from food, to clothes and shoes to appliances and school supplies. This is usually where I get my “processed” foods such as cheese, bread, pasta, etc. Then there’s the open aired market which consists of many (maybe hundreds?) of stalls
of different vendors selling their goods. The market is divided into sections – fruits, vegetables, chicken, seafood, meat, etc. I usually only venture into the fruits and veggies section for my shopping needs but tend to walk through the other sections in passing to my supervisor’s office. It’s actually quite interesting to walk past here because meats and fish and chicken are sold quite differently than in the US. Rather than having little cellophane wrapped trays of different cuts of meats, there’s whole animals (dead already, thank goodness), and you can buy them whole or pick the pieces you want to buy and they will chop them off on the spot. For me it’s interesting (and sometimes sad) to walk past the fish section as I see so many species of fish (and sharks and rays and invertebrates) of all shapes and sizes for sale.
So back to my first market day, I tackled my problems one step at a time. First things first – figure out what the heck I would cook. I asked friends for recipes, which was a life saver, and looked up others online. Before I knew it, I had a handful of recipes that could get me through the next couple weeks before getting tired of the monotony. After acquiring recipes, I had to figure out what the ingredients were and what they looked like, I figured worse came to worse I could just point at stuff at the market and say with my fingers how many I wanted. Lastly, I looked up a handful of words in my dictionary such as “buy”, “how much” and the numbers and names of the things I wanted to buy.
Fully equipped with a little piece of paper that had visayan words, my shopping list and my reusable bags, I made my way to the market for the first time, and not without some fear and hesitation. But those feelings quickly dissolved
when I was met with smiles and kindness from the people at the market. The first time I went to the market by myself, I returned to a vendor my coworker had introduced me to. I figured that if she had seen me with a Philippina before, she wouldn’t assume I was just some tourist she could overcharge. To say this woman was kind is really an understatement. During my first months at site I always went to her and didn’t dare venture to other vendors, I would ask her for things and if she didn’t have what I asked of her she would scurry along passages of the market looking for it and bringing it back to me. We communicated in mix of languages and hand gestures as she doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak good visayan. Somehow though, we always find a way to communicate and she’s even told me recipes that I half understood.
Slowly but surely, I became accustomed to my market routine. The night before I made a list of ingredients on the back of an old receipt and prepared my reusable bag. The next day I first went to “Prince” were I bought things like nestle cream, cheese, bread and other such processed goods. After that I made my way to the open aired market where I bought fresh fruits and veggies.
As I became more confident in my ability to identify fruits and vegetables, more confident in my visayan and more knowledgeable of prices, I started to venture. Of course I always went first to my regular vendor, in fact I was her “balik balik suki” or “returning customer”. But now, rather than ask her for stuff I could see she didn’t have, I visited other stalls to find what I needed.
I now take a lot of enjoyment out of going to the market. For one, it allows me to leave the office for a while and stretch my legs (although
the heat has gotten quite insufferable so that’s a new challenge). Every time I walk towards the market, as I pass the fruit stands I am met by a “Hi Ate Dani” every time from Judy, one of the younger ladies who sells fruit (she got to know me from when I judged the market vendor’s associations parade and dance in December). I then make my way to my regular vendor where we make some conversation, today we talked about her new hair cut and how she cut it because of this insane heat. Then I go around finding anything else I need that she didn’t have. A lot of the vendors that I frequent know my mantra, “wala plastic” or “no plastic” meaning “no please, I do not need a plastic bag I have this snazzy reusable one”. Sometimes they chuckle at my determination to not get a plastic bag but now they know and when I have to remind them they laugh.
Another fun part is when I’m talking to the vendors in my broken visayan and people passing by gawk and comment on how the “cana” or “American” can speak their language. A few brave ones will stop me and ask me questions, you know the typical “what’s your name, where are you from, where do you live, are you a missionary, are you single”. Sometimes, I visit new vendors and they too are surprised at my Visayan. They will sell me their goods and as I walk away I can hear them commenting on my language abilities, much to my surprise I can understand what they’re saying of me. Today, I bought limes from one of the men that walks around the market with trays of them and I said “wala plastik” and asked him for five pesos worth, and as I walked away with my fresh limes I heard the other vendors asking him if I had just spoken Visayan (five words is all I spoke) to which he said yes and they continued talking about it, needless to say I chuckled as I walked away.
The market is amazing, for so many reasons, you can find
some amazing things there, half of which I have yet to discover their names and uses (for example today I discovered bay leaves). Having a department store is also nice because you get to find some of the fancier things, like today I purchased olive oil and some McCormick chili powder! It’s also all fresh and only things that are in season are sold at the market, most recently avocados came in season and my happiness has increased five fold. But in reality, my favorite part of going to the market are the interactions I have with the people, because with just a little effort in speaking their language I realize I can put a smile on their face and really break down barriers, and THAT makes me smile.
And in the end, I use my newly purchase goods to make some delicious food, if I do say so myself…
Once again Salamat for reading and I hope you enjoyed the mental images you conjured of me trying to figure out this crazy new experience.