Rumors that a shutdown would be imposed due to the new coronavirus caught me unprepared on Saturday.
I was with my extended family in the Haifa suburbs, and the relaxed visit suddenly took a dramatic turn. My father, my daughter and I spent Saturday racing madly from supermarket to supermarket for fear we would die of hunger.
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First we went to the Dabbah Brothers’ supermarket in Ein Hamifratz. As we crawled through the jam-packed parking lot, we spotted perhaps 100 people congregated outside the market. We drove on without stopping.
Next we went to the Samara store in Shfaram. (I think my father secretly hoped the Arabs hadn’t heard about the coronavirus) He discovered his mistake in the parking lot and let me out in the last sliver of available space. My daughter started crying that she wanted to come with me, and I patiently explained that my job as a mother is first of all to protect her, so I would enter the battlefield alone. This was about as effective as a paper face mask, so I gave her my cellphone to play with and dropped hints about having “good times” together in the coming days, when she wouldn’t be going to preschool.
A few meters from the store’s entrance, I asked someone where the shopping carts were. He gestured to the dozens of people waiting in line. “There are no carts,” one said. “This is the line for the carts.” I wondered whether I could manage without one, but the long checkout lines convinced me otherwise.
While debating whether this was really where I wanted to catch the virus, I followed a young man wheeling a cart to his car. He looked at me suspiciously and asked why I was following him. I asked if he was done with the cart, and he laughed in my face: He’d already promised it to his brother. I returned to the car feeling like a failure.
But we didn’t give up: We went to the Tiv Taam branch in Hutzot Hamifratz, where there were still no carts, but also no feeling that the world was ending. I waited patiently for a small plastic cart, and when it arrived, I wrapped a plastic bag around the handle.
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People were clearly trying to wean themselves of the habit of using a finger wet with spit to separate the plastic bags. The result: frustrated people near the bananas. Everyone looked suspiciously at each other and tried to shop quickly. “Breathe as little as possible,” one mother told her daughter while grabbing cheeses from the refrigerator case.
Even though this store maintained a semblance of normalcy, by late morning, when I arrived, there were no eggs and few legumes, and don’t even mention luxuries like diapers. And no wonder: Ahead of me in line was a man with at least eight boxes of cornflakes.
I finished shopping and wanted to take the cart to my car. The guard yelled not to remove it from the store. I yelled back that a young child waited for me in the car. I carried one bag to the car and yelled for my father to come help me. He yelled back that I should get in the car already so we could leave, because there was nowhere to keep it idling. I yelled back that I’d walk home. That’s how people talked to each other that day – by shouting. Like the man I heard shouting at his wife to stop bothering him about which brand of tomato paste, and that what he’d really like was to be quarantined.
The policy makers promised that the supermarkets would stay stocked, so no need to storm them. But I think people flocked to the store on Saturday mainly to do something about their fear. They shopped for their lives.