There is nothing more embarrassing than to go out of a grocery store empty-handed. I remember when I got my first job, I promised myself I would never go hungry again. That I can buy whatever food I want. And yet here I am. Again. Standing in front of the sliding glass door of a grocery store. Wearing corporate sleeves with a tie, matched with black shiny leather shoes. Walking like a loser across the main road. So I could go back home. Empty-handed.
It was the 10th day of a 24-hour community lockdown in Jeddah due to the COVID-19 outbreak. People can only go out within a specified time frame to buy food and attend to their medical needs. I don’t have a car and spare cash, so I brisk walked 700 meters from my flat to the grocery store at a staggering heat of 1 pm.
In other countries, walking around the city seems to be perfectly normal. But not in Saudi Arabia. In a 2019 global survey by Statista, 63% of the country’s population owns, leases, or has access to at least one car. I belong to the 37% who can’t even pay for Uber. And I am an engineer.
I was wearing a slick and classy corporate attire at that moment. And I am supposed to have money. With that attire.
Upon entering the store, a security guard scanned my body temperature. I passed with a flying color of 36.3 degrees Celsius! Next step, I wore safety plastic gloves easily accessible from the entrance, plugged my earphones for some music, and picked up a basket with rollers.
I started roaming around the grocery to grab some fresh produce, meats, detergent, and toiletries. It took me 45 minutes to fill my basket to the brim. The checklist is complete. Social distancing applies to the cashier queue. I then proudly lay all my items on the moving conveyor piece by piece.
To pay for my goods, I tapped my EMV debit card to the POS machine. Now came the mortifying part where my body turned stone cold. My card got declined. Three times. Automatically, it was blocked.
Five people are waiting on the line. They all looked so agitated and impatient. I was in the hot seat…