A Bazaar Day
Last Sunday I went to the bazaar with Arzu and Samira. In Azerbaijan, the bazaar is the central marketplace in a given town. The size of the bazaar depends on the size of the city, village, region, etc. Xachmaz is considered a city and so its bazaar is on the bigger side. In the bazaar, one can find almost everything one needs in the crowded labyrinth that makes the paths leading to the different sections that are organized categorically from the Azerbaijani equivalent of Mop and Glow, to fabric, clothes, car parts, house paint, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, buckets filled with pickled treats, spices, and of course meat.
This was not my first trip to a bazaar since I’ve been in AZ. However, it was my first trip to the bazaar with my host family. The ladies of my household take bazaar day very seriously in that their hairs were combed and coiffured, make up was put on, cute sweaters over jeans or a skirt were donned as were high healed boots that turned out to be a mistake after hiking over the cobble stone and dirt roads on the mile long walk to and from the marketplace, and I cannot forget to mention the ankle length, black, suede, coat with a faux fur collar and cuffs that was far to warm for our mid day trek. I, being the practical American, wore tennis shoes, jeans, a t-shirt, and a jacket. I did, however, put some mascara on and brushed my hair so I was not totally out of place.
Going to the bazaar is a very different shopping experience from how we do our shopping in the States, and one of the appealing things about living in a foreign country is that I am noticing many of the things I usually take for granted in my own country. I try to bring my camera with me wherever I go and having it helps me to be more aware of my surroundings as I am looking for interesting things to photograph. AZ people find this practice strange. Seeing me taking photos of a bucket of hot pink pickled cabbage with a neon green pepper lying across the top of it, or shelves lined with multi-colored dried fruits, grains, and pulses, scarves hanging from the ceiling, and the droves of people pushing and shoving one another as they walk down a crowded street carrying plastic bags filled with the days procured goods often attracts stares, whispers, and the ever present question, “Niyə” or why? But, after the inquiry I usually share the photo with the person and get a wide gold toothed or toothless smile. I suppose I would also find it strange to see someone walking down the aisles of a Ralph’s supermarket snapping shots of the meat in the butcher’s case, the salad bar, neatly arranged bottles of laundry detergent, or the long line of frustrated people waiting to check out.
With the exception of what might be in Baku (I haven’t spent enough time there to know), AZ does not have large supermarkets like we do in the States. They do have these little mom and pop shops called mağazalar. These are the neighborhood stores that carry the basic things that people might need in a pinch such eggs, butter, flour, sugar, detergent, some fruits and veggies, and imported packaged goods from Russia, Iran and Turkey like oatmeal, millet, chocolate, and birthday candles. There’s really very little that I can’t get in this country because they import so much. Really, I’m quite surprised by just how much they do import. I don’t think any of the clothes or shoes they sell are made here. All the tags I’ve looked at say, “Made in Turkey or China,” and they are not cheap. The quality is akin to what you would find at Target, but the price is two to three times as much. It makes shopping a little dull because there’s nothing that interesting to look at or buy (not to mention the toll exporting all these jobs out of the country has on the local economy, but that’s a different story for a different blog post), and outside of the production of food and rugs there isn’t a strong artisan industry either. I was particularly surprised to see that their fabrics are made of synthetics and in general not very nice.
When we returned home Arzu took all the products that she purchased at the bazaar out of her bags and put them on the table. Nana came over and a long discussion ensued about how much each item cost. She wanted to know if the price of dish washing liquid purchased from the bazaar was more or less than it is from the mağaza, and what the quality of the butter she bought was and how she intended to use it because if she was going to make a pie Nana wanted to be sure that she used the best quality of butter, one that is pure and doesn’t have a lot of fillers. We also discussed a dress that was purchased for Samira that ended up becoming mine because it didn’t look right on her. One thing that happens in AZ that I’ve never experienced happening in the states is the trust that sellers have with their patrons. For instance, the dress that Samira took home from the Bazaar was given to her on loan. In other words Arzu did not give the seller any money for it based on the understanding that if Samira liked the dress Arzu would come back and pay her, or if she did not like it she would return the dress. This has happened to me too when I was living in Sumgayit. I went into a bakery that I had never been in before to get some coffee and a pastry, but I only had a large bill and was almost certain that the owner wouldn’t have change, so I asked him and he didn’t, but he took my order anyways and told me to come back and pay him when I had change. I guess the honor system really goes a long way here.