Friday, September 16, 2011

The Bizarre Bazaar

The Bizarre Bazar

Over the last two years, I have had the pleasure of doing my shopping in the Goranboy Bazaar. It’s probably the smallest market of all the region centers that I have seen, and I rarely visit it. However small, I can get my basic needs there, and within the city I can find a plethora of odds and end that make up my daily diet.

In my second week in Azerbaijan, my host dad Adigozel asked (in Azerbaijani) if I wanted to go to the bazaar with him. In Tagiyev, the village that I lived in for the first two months, the bazaar was only open on Sunday mornings, like a farmers’ market. As we made our way to the bazaar, Adigozel told me to stick close to him and let him do the talking. I laughed to myself as I nodded in agreement because I had a vocabulary of maybe 40 words at this point, and I wasn’t confident enough to use them outside of my host dad and mom, so I wasn’t going to go anywhere.

As we entered the bazaar, I was taken aback. There was produce everywhere. Freight trucks full of cabbages and “vintage” Soviet cars stuffed full of apples. Ladies bundled up in scarves and robes lined the streets selling bunches of cilantro, parsley and basil. Potatoes were sold on every corner, and each type of potato had a different price. I couldn’t tell what the difference between a good potato and bad potato was, and I guess that is why Adigozel didn’t want me talking. People were shouting at me from all different directions, and I had no idea what they were saying, but I assume that it couldn’t have been anything too bad, because my host dad would have had someone’s head on a platter.

As we walked through the bazaar, Adigozel bought up the store, to put it proverbially. He bought the produce for the week, and as we were walking, I realized the reason he had brought me along. I was the pack horse. I had thought he invited me because he had been helping me practice my food vocabulary at the house and I figured he wanted to give me some “experiential learning”. This may have been the case, but he knew exactly what my real purpose would be. As he made his purchases, he handed me bag after bag. He and I carted all the vegetables and fruits home, each of us hunched over Quasimodo-style with the weight of our groceries (apples are friggin’ heavy!). We must have been a sight to see for my host mom, a proud old man and a young American woman walking side by side hunched over with the groceries in tow.

As I moved out to my region, I did not have too much experience with the bazaar until I moved out of my host family’s house. When I saw the Goranboy bazaar for the first time, it looked okay to me. It was open every day and had the fruits and vegetables that were in season. However I didn’t know any better. Two weeks later I ventured to Mingechevir where the bazaar is HUGE. I gasped when I saw the out-of-season vegetables and my mouth dropped when I learned it was open until 5pm! That is three hours later than our bazaar and a better time for people who work to buy their produce. I had bazaar envy.

“Bazaar envy?” you question, but yes, there is such a thing here. If I go to the bazaars of the big cities, I can find almost anything, including the very elusive broccoli. There is not even a word for broccoli in Azerbaijani. We showed our neighbor once a picture of broccoli and asked what the name is, and he said he had never seen it before, and his father is a farmer. But in Ganja, you can get broccoli at the bazaar. Village PCV’s also have this bazaar envy problem. In many of the village bazaars, like Tagiyev, they are only open once/week and you have to do your shopping for the week. God forbid it rains before one of these days because then you are walking through mud up to your knees buying muddy veggies to cart home to your house, which then becomes muddy. There’s no escaping it. While I was in Turkey, I got a chance to visit the Grand Bazaar there. It was incredible. Colors everywhere, anything from hookahs to scarves, bananas to artichokes were available to me. We spent about 3 hours walking back and forth and went back there two days later for two more hours of looking. That was bazaar envy.

My bazaar in Goranboy dictates what kind of dinner Kate and I eat. If we can’t get to the bazaar in the afternoon, we are stuck without any type of produce. Usually one or two of the shops sell a limited amount of vegetables until 5pm, but these are on the other side of town. However, our bazaar is only 3 minutes or so from our house, so if we can get the time, it’s really easy to cart our vegetables back. Why don’t we buy veggies for the week? you ask. Well, we don’t have a fridge. Last night we really wanted some chicken soup, but our house was empty, and neither of us wanted to walk the 15 minutes it would take to get vegetables for soup. We had hot chocolate for dinner (sorry mom).

The bazaar isn’t only about going and getting your food, it’s also about building relationships. I have a herbs lady, an onion lady, a flatbread lady, a butcher, a carrots and cabbage lady, etc. Kate and I are “their” Americans. We have built these relationships within our community. So when I walk through the bazaar, I have nice conversations with each of my vendors, even if I don’t have to buy anything from them that day. If I ever had a problem or needed anything, I know these people would help. On Thanksgiving, we needed a live turkey. I asked around at the bazaar and got it for pretty cheap from the village. They made sure that I didn’t need anyone to kill it for me (the men offered to help) and then offered to carry Tom back to my house. We got him back alive and well, our own pilgrim experience on Thanksgiving was a success.

All in all, I am pretty lucky. For as much complaining I do, I get really cheap, delicious fresh vegetables all year round. I get to eat pomegranate, apricots and persimmon out of my back yard for free, while it costs like $3 for one pomegranate in the states (that’s a COMPLETE guess). I have learned to cook things from scratch and definitely figured out how to be creative with the ingredients I have.
So to sum up, I will give you a list of things I can find in Goranboy in each season to give you all a taste of what living “locally grown” is like.

All year: Parsley, cilantro, dill, bananas (imported), onions, tomatoes (but they go from $.30 to $4/kg in winter), garlic

Fall(late September-late November): Apples, pomegranate, quince, persimmon, spinach, carrots, cabbage, green beans, squash and pumpkin, nuts

Winter (late November to early March): cabbage, carrots, onions, spinach, green beans apples (although they are less delicious), squash, mandarin oranges and beets

Spring (March to late May): early spring is the worst, because winter vegetables are going out, and summer vegetables are coming in but late spring we get alchas (unripe plums), apricots, cucumbers, mulberries, and carrots

Summer (late May to September): Peppers, eggplant, figs, apricot, cherries, strawberries, watermelon, yemish (a type of melon), peaches, grapes, and plums

Never: Broccoli, fresh peas, artichokes, avocado, lettuce, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, and summer squash

Picture 1: What Adigozel does with his loot from the bazaar
Picture 2: The Grand Bazar in Istanbul
Editor's note: I will put pictures up of the Goranboyu bazaar when I take them! :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I'm On A Marsh

I'm on a Marsh

If I had to think of something that all Peace Corps volunteers share around the world, it is a scary transportation system. Just crossing the road in your host country is enough to make you buy up that Peace Corps life insurance ASAP. It isn’t limited to the villages either. Baku and Ganja, the two biggest cities in Azerbaijan, are actually probably the two worst places in Azerbaijan to cross the street. In two years here, I have seen more accidents than I can count. To my complete horror, I even once saw a little old lady get hit by a car while crossing one of the main streets in Ganja. She must have eaten her Wheaties that morning, because she was fine, but it was a scary moment.

I have even been hit here. When I first got out to site (a year and a half ago) I was walking through Goranboy one day with a young Azeri girl, and we were crossing a side street, parallel to the one main street in our town. A car was coming off the side street, and I was paying attention as to not get hit by it. I crossed in front, and a tuk-tuk (little motor scooter) came flying around the corner from the main street and swiped my kegs out from underneath me. I went flying up in the air and landed flat on my back. The Azeri girl screamed and all the men standing around and in the cafes came to pick me up and make sure I was okay. The only thing that hurt was my pride, and my knees a little. I brushed myself off and hurried away. Alas, in Azerbaijan it isn't that easy to escape your embarrassment. The Azeri girl still calls it my "catastrophe", and I got into a taxi a few months ago and the guy in the passenger seat asked the taxi driver who we were. He called Kate the "girl who runs everywhere" and me "that girl who got hit by a motorcycle". I really hope that's not how I am remembered here!

The many form s of transportation in Azerbaijan can overwhelm a person. At any normal Avtovagzal (bus station) one may find buses, mini-buses, taxis, van-taxis, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and the ever scary marshrutka (marsh). Ah, the marshrutka,. The simultaneous God-send and devil machine. It is bigger than a mini-van and smaller than a mini-bus. It seats about 16-18 people and will drive anywhere. They are 99% percent rust held together with industrial duct tape. I don’t know if they come with mufflers from the manufacturer, but by the time they hit Azerbaijan, the muffler is long gone. Only half of them still have the shock pads. So when you board one of these things, you are looking at a long, loud, bumpy ride. We Peace Corps volunteers get used to it though. When Jessica came to visit Azerbaijan, we got on a marsh to get from Georgia into Azerbaijan it was a 4 hour ride and we were both EXHAUSTED by this point. I told Jess she could sleep on the ride over.

The ride from Tbilisi to Zaqatala (Georgia to Azerbaijan) is a windy, bumpy one. As soon as we set out, my head hit the side window and I zonked. I woke up 3 hours later, looked back at Jessica and said “Did you have a nice nap?” She looked at me like I was a crazy person. She hadn’t slept a wink. She said that no normal person can sleep on a ride like that. I chuckled to myself and realized my amazing adaptation. I wonder now if adaptation is why my father can sleep anywhere at any time. His sleeping abilities are incredible and well renown in the King family, and I suppose now that it is because of his many years in the Army and Army Reserve finding decent places to sleep on the road.

There are many dangers to choosing a marsh as your method of transportation. Marshrutkas that are going short distances turn into clown cars. I have stood for as long as an hour to get places. As a person who lives on a main route between Ganja and Baku, the cars are often full when they get to my stop, so I have to push everyone like a left tackle to even get on. The 16-18 passenger vehicle turns into a 25 passenger death trap. People are standing in the aisles, the doorways and between the seats. Not only that, but when you get the privilege to sit next to a old xanim, 9 out of 10 times the xanim takes up her seat AND half of yours. In the winter, this is fine for warmth, those women are like heaters! But in the summer, for me personally, all I want to do is push the xanim out the window, if she could fit.

When someone needs to get off the marsh, everyone must get off to let him/her out of the car. The worst and best part about it is that people haven the marsh stop whenever they want. This is terrible because many times it takes twice as long to get to your destination. People will ask for a stop in the middle of nowhere, nothing around but cows and fields as far as the eye can see. I have thought about it a lot, and I still have no clue where these people are going. They walk off into nowhere like Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams”. This is why the long rides vary greatly. My ride to Baku can take from 4.5-6 hours, depending on how often it stops for people. On the other hand, I have stopped the marsh for my own purposes countless times, and have stopped it to get on in some remote places. I have used it to my favor. I work the system so that when I am worked over by this same system, I don’t get as frustrated.

Another peril on the marsh is letting anyone know you are different at all. I am a complete failure in this category just from appearances alone. I get stares up and down the aisle and there’s no way to avoid them. Some of my fellow colleagues are a little better at blending in than me, and they will pretend they are Azeri so they will not have to spend 6 hours on a bus telling people who they are. I am all for describing my experience here, what I am doing, why I came and where I come from. This is actually one of the goals of the Peace Corps and I like doing this in a controlled setting. But to be with a stranger for 6 hours straight who will not let you sleep because you are different is a bit much. It’s like that guy on the airplane who takes up the arm rests and talks to you incessantly. There’s a point where my politeness hits its limits. I have actually woken up on a marsh to find a cell phone in my face and a guy taking a picture of me, sleeping. CREEPY.

Overall, the travel in Azerbaijan is risky but worth it. I appreciate the public transport here. It brings me all over the country and to my fellow volunteers. Marshtrukas are dirt cheap, run quite often, and go all over the country. I may bet my life every time I get on one, but I believe I am playing with pretty great odds. In America, we have perils to our public transport as well, with way fewer interesting stories to come home with at the end of the day.

Picture 1: The perils of crossing the streets in Goranboy.
Picture 2: We are stopped by sheep just as often as people.
Picture 3: Somewhere this kind of photo is out there on an Azeri's phone.