Pedaling for Provisions

The Resolution  

Since returning from the states, I have a renewed sense of resolve.  Resolve to cherish this time, to make the most of it, to dig deeper and step up into the challenges that this life offers.  After all, it is only temporary, isn’t it?  All this is just a drop in a bigger preverbal bucket.  Seriously, when else am I going to be here, in this place, living this day, facing these obstacles, experiencing the intricacies of this exact moment?  And what will my response to this moment make of me?  Though they may seem insignificant, those drops add up.

It had been a few days since we’d made the trek to the local market.  We were out of fruit entirely and down to a single, sad-looking head of cabbage.  We were three days into our first week of our boat school year and everyone was really on a roll.  A trip to the morning market would put quite a kink in our newly established routine.  Furthermore, we needed a lot of groceries.  I couldn’t possibly carry it all back by myself.  I started listing lots of reasons NOT to go and even more reasons to ask Mark to go in my place.  The challenge had presented itself.  How would I respond?

The resolve I’d set earlier came to mind, and I tried to deny it. To push it off. To slam the snooze button.  But it persisted, so I pressed in.  What solution would grow me most?  What was possible?  I wasn’t willing to postpone or change the school routine.  Mark was knee deep in a boat project of his own.  There was no better option.  In order to get food, I’d need to go alone. I’d get the kids going on their schoolwork, have Mark dinghy me ashore, and hitch a ride on a the back of a scooter behind the guy who does the market run each morning for the resort.  It’s the only thing that really made sense, but I knew it would be a struggle.

Reluctantly, but determinedly, I gathered what I’d need:  the big backpack with the waist support, enough money in small bills, our plastic egg cartons, sunglasses, hat, shopping list (written with the heaviest items first in order to fill my pack from the bottom up), a VHF radio, and my cell phone in a waterproof casing.  I decided to be on the safe side and carry a small daypack in front of me, too.  I’d use it to carry the eggs and to provide extra packing space.  I could do this, right?

The Journey

When I waded up the shore to the resort, two guests were waiting by the bicycles, planning to head to town as well.  Turns out, there was no scooter available, so we’d have to bike to the market.  Dani, a member of the staff, assured me that I would ride the scooter back with my groceries, and just leave the bicycle in town to be returned later.  Okay, no problem.  A nice 2-mile morning bike ride would get my blood flowing!  A workout and provisioning in one - win/win!  I hopped on the bike and enjoyed a leisurely ride to town, calling out “Selamat Pagi!” (Good morning!) to the folks I pedaled past.

The staffer pulled his bike over and parked it behind a house.  I followed, thinking, since I’m riding the scooter back, I’ll need to leave my bike where he leaves his.  He called out to request a scooter as I stood waiting to hop on the back for the remainder of the ride into town.  This was going to be fine, just fine.

He turned to me, visibly startled to see me standing with him.


Turns out, Dani didn’t give him the message that I’d be his passenger on the way back and he just kept pointing to his bag, shaking his head, and making a sign of wobbly scooter handling with both his fists in front of him.  Unfortunately, I understood the message he was sending.  It would be too hard to drive the scooter while balancing groceries AND a passenger.  I was demoted to pedaling my provisions the entire two-mile trek back to the resort.  The workout I’d been so thankful for had suddenly turned into obligatory boot camp.  With dread, I mounted the bicycle and rode the rest of the way to town, mentally crossing items off my grocery list that we could reasonably do without.  The wobbly handlebar miming still haunted me, but finally my resolve won out.

When I reached the market, the two guests were parking their bikes, so I pulled up to park next to them.  I set off to start my shopping, telling them that I’d meet them back there in a little while.  I turned to the line of food stalls and with a deep breath, provisioning officially began.

The Cost

I headed for our favorite vendor first, where I was able to stock up on most of what I had on the shopping list.  In our early days of cruising, when we started provisioning at fresh markets, we would attempt to buy something from as many people as we could.  You know, share the wealth, spread the blessing.  But eventually we realized the power of building relationships with one or two vendors.  They always appreciated the return business and showed their appreciation by picking out the best of their produce for us, greeting us with a familiar smile, and inevitably throwing in a ‘bonus’ item or two as a thank you. At times, we’ve even been able to leave our heavy bags at their stall as we ran to the egg vendor and other areas of the market in search of items they weren’t selling that day.

Today, the two women we’d come to know greeted me by name and jumped right to action, pointing to the items they knew I liked and asking “Ini?” (this?).  Then I’d respond with the weight I needed, “Satu kilo” (one kilo) or “Stenga kilo” (half kilo) or the dollar amount I wanted to spend, “Lima ribu” (5,000 rupiah).  Occasionally, I would ask, “Berapa harganya?” (How much does it cost?) and quickly figure conversions in my head.    

Over and over this conversation would take place until I had bought all that I needed (and already more than I could carry!).  The ladies were excited to sell in such big quantities, as it appears the local people simply come to the market daily to get what they need for that day’s meals.  One of them helped me stuff all the items into my backpack, filling it completely full, and tucked it out of the way while I ran to find the other items I needed.

The Bounty: 

In the end, this is what I (foolishly) bought to pedal back…

In my big pack (in order from bottom to top!):  
1 watermelon
4 pineapples
4 christophene (consistency and shape of a pear, but takes on the taste of whatever it’s in. Tastes a bit like water chestnuts? I like to use them in stir fries to add crunch)
4 large cucumbers
6 small cucumbers
3 heads of cauliflower
4 ears of corn
4 eggplants
30 limes
2 bunches of bananas
VHF handheld radio

In my small pack:
2 dozen eggs
12 small cucumber
small notebook with my list written in it
a pen (to write down totals if I couldn’t understand what they were saying or to draw pictures of what I was looking for)

In a separate plastic bag (once both my bags were full):
2 bunches of bok choy
1 bag of ‘botor’ (a vegetable we’d recently discovered)
20 tomatoes
24 oranges

Now, I’m not sure what the total weight of all of this was, but it was heavy.  Like ‘wobbly handlebars’ heavy.  Like ‘how in the world am I going to get this all back to the boat and why did I think that 24 oranges were necessary’ heavy.  Like ‘I can’t possibly do this’ heavy.  Like ‘resolve?  what resolve?’ heavy.  I mean seriously.  

I wanted to cry…to drop this lead backpack filled with food for my dear family on the dusty cement and leave it there…to rot.  We could survive on rice, right?

A deep breath somehow gave me enough superpowers to get myself and all of my ‘necessities’ back to the bikes where the bubbly young French couple from the resort was just returning.  They gasped at the haul I was carrying and I decided it best not to go into any of the reasons why I needed to shop for a week’s worth of groceries today… by myself… riding a bicycle.  Why was I doing this again?  My resolve returned once again as I shuffled bags to fit it all in.  I huffed my bulging pack onto my back, thankful for the waist straps that took the load from my shoulders.  Then I wriggled both arms through the smaller pack, securing it in front of me.  Once the two honeymooners realized that I was actually going to attempt to get this all home, they kindly offered to carry the plastic bag of oranges, tomatoes, and greens.  Ah, there is hope in humanity.  I could have kissed them… muah, muah on each cheek.

The Wobble

Gingerly, I lifted my leg to mount the bike, nearly toppling under the shifting weight of my pack.  Once my foot was on the pedal, I pushed off and barely managed to get the wobbly handlebars under some semblance of control in order to find my footing on the other pedal and propel myself forward.  I was on my way.

With the exception of nearly tipping over once when I stopped to take a photo and then having to walk up a small hill, I made it back to the resort with my resolve intact and even growing with each challenge I overcame.

I called Mark on the VHF and asked him to pick me up in ten minutes, allowing just enough time to treat myself to a quick fruit smoothie before the real work began.  Oh, you mean you thought this was the end of my little produce run?  No, no, my friend, the fun is just beginning…

The Process

Mark sped up to shore, pulled the pack from my back, nearly dropping it into the shallow water.  “Wow!  This weighs a ton!  What did you buy?”  And then, when I told him about the scooter mix-up and my bicycle boot camp, he couldn’t imagine how I’d made it back carrying it all.  I was a bit amazed myself, really.  But, indeed, I had done it.  There is blessing in struggle.  Like I said, though, this is just the ‘getting’ of the groceries.  Next I had to wash it, dry it, and stow each type of vegetable and fruit very specifically in order to maximize freshness.  As I’ve traveled, we’ve encountered new types of foods and been reunited with long missed vegetables that we haven’t seen for a while (hello cauliflower!).  Anyway, point is, the produce isn’t the same here as it was in the Caribbean, so I wanted to share the Indonesia version.

Here’s the procedure and the methods I’ve found work best for various fresh goods:

 Washing - One bucket of saltwater and one filled less than halfway with freshwater (to which I usually drop in a quarter capful of bleach for disinfecting).  The sturdy foods and those prone to bug infestations (i.e. pineapples and bunches of bananas) soak in the saltwater for a good 15 minutes, while sturdy produce that doesn’t need lengthy soaking just get a saltwater dip. They then get dipped in the fresh water bucket for a rinse.  I also use the saltwater to clean off foods that tend to have dirt on the outside (i.e. citrus fruits, mangoes), always rinsing in fresh.
I do not soak any foods with a soft stem or skin that will rot quickly if wet (peppers, chilis, eggplant, green beans, tomatoes), although I will use a slightly wet towel to remove any visible dirt.
Drying - After being washed, I lay it all out in a single layer on a towel - out of the sun, if possible.  Once dry, I stow what I can in a fruit hammock in the cockpit.  Cucumbers go inside, though, in a basket with the eggplant.  By the time these items need to be in the fridge, we usually have already eaten the bulky items that take up fridge space, like lettuce.

Storing Various Produce:    

Lettuce/greens/leafy herbs - Do not wash at all until ready to use.  Flip through the leaves to check for hitchhikers, then wrap in a dry sheet of newspaper and place in a large ziplock (this doesn’t have to fit completely, you just want to minimize wetness).  Change the newspaper if it gets saturated and check inside regularly for freshness.

Tomatoes - Do not wash until ready to use.  I store mine in a basket which I line with paper towel to minimize mess in case I don’t catch one before it leaks.  Do not refrigerate.

Green Beans - Do not wash until ready to use.  I simply store them in a ziplock bag and don’t even snap the ends until I use them.  Dryness is key.  Occasionally, I will slide a paper towel alongside either side of the bag to absorb condensation. And beware, I’ve lost a few items to frost when I have stored them too close to the cold plates around the inside of the refrigerator.  Make sure you don’t let things get pushed up against those frosty plates!  It will save your produce AND your fridge’s efficiency!

Head of cabbage - wrap in aluminum foil and leave out.  Put in the fridge as soon as there’s room.
Onions and Potatoes - Do not wash until ready to use.  Store separately in dry, shady places.
Eggplant - gently wipe the skin on the fruit, but do not wet the stem.  Can be stored outside the fridge until they begin to wrinkle.

Corn - Here, they partially husk it and wrap it nicely in cling wrap, so I just leave it that way and place it right in the fridge.  If it isn’t husked at all, I leave it out and it gets eaten around here long before it goes bad.

Cauliflower - I have been placing it in large ziplock bags and cutting/cleaning what I need when I need it.  Once, we got one that was infested with little green caterpillars, so I definitely check them each time now.  Luckily, I noticed their thick white cocoons before I cooked that batch!  An extra precaution:  when buying cabbage or cauliflower, always check the bottom to see that the stalk is not beginning to rot in the center.

Carrots - Again, no washing until I need to use.  They go right into a ziplock exactly as they came.  To keep them fresh even longer, I will wrap a stack of them in aluminum foil.
 Bananas - In a bowl, left in the bunch, away from other fruits. Can stay either outside on the cockpit table or on a counter inside for easy snack access!

It usually takes me about 45 minutes to clean, dry, and store all the produce, but it is time well spent.  When buying fresh foods from local markets, sanitation is key.  And, knock on wood, we haven’t had to tap into our stores of Immodium AD on board yet!  So something’s working right.  Remember: items stored in the fridge need to be kept dry and clear of the cold plates.  Those stored outside need to be in an shady spot with good air flow.  Check your produce regularly to catch problems early.

There.  NOW fresh provisioning is finally finished.  I turn the handle to lock the refrigerator door and sigh.  Not a sigh of exhaustion or annoyance, though.  It is the satisfied sigh of a job well done that encompasses all of the mix-ups, challenges, and victories that have accompanied this struggle.  Sure, I might need to change my sweaty t-shirt and my legs might be as wobbly as those handlebars tomorrow, but it got done.  And I did it.  Myself.  Alas, my family will be fed nutritious meals for the next week and it was my sweaty resolve that made that possible.

The Blessing

Recently, in a conversation with another parent, the concept of struggle was raised.  Do we rob our children of the blessings found in struggle?  In our efforts to protect them and shield them from any harm or discomfort, are we in turn refusing them the chance to grow their resolve muscles?  To tap into the power of grit?  Are we raising puny kids who think they can’t because they’ve never been given the opportunity to try, fail, and struggle until they can finally revel in the glories of ‘I did it myself!’?

This provisioning experience has changed me.  It has given me confidence in what I am capable of and newfound gratefulness for the times that Mark lugged these heavy bags through the market when we shopped together before.  Confidence and gratefulness are two characteristics I yearn to see in my kids.  Perhaps I need to find more ways to pull back and let them grow a little more grit.  Sure, there will be whining, crying, and gnashing of teeth, but when they do it themselves the blessings will come, and they will be stronger in the end.



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