No matter how comfortable and accessible modern supermarkets are, the average citizen of the Turkmen capital still does most of shopping at a bazaar.
Ashgabat has got several big markets. However, the two biggest bazaars, situated in the historical center of the city, are the most popular ones. People call one of them "Russian" and the other -"Teke". Both bazaars serve not only their primary purpose. They have long become a unique visiting card of the city and integral part of unrepeatable Ashgabat coloring. It is not by chance that during the Russian President's first visit to Ashgabat Saparmurat Niyazov personally took Vladimir Putin on a tour of Teke bazaar. Russia's State Duma Vice Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskiy also took a long walk in Russian bazaar and talked to sellers and buyers during his recent visit to Turkmenistan.
Every time when I come to my native city I can't bypass Russian bazaar. It makes no difference to me, if I buy something or not. I want to plunge into the atmosphere that resembles exactly the rhythm of Ashgabat life, peculiarities of mentality of the Turkmen capital's residents. You will surely meet your old acquaintances here and every seller will smile to you as if he met his friend after many years of absence from the city.
The memory evokes pictures that didn't fade away with time. The school I went to was not far from Russian bazaar. For us, the schoolboys, there was no better fun than to roam between wooden pavilions during the willingly or unwillingly missed lesson, to buy half a glass of sunflower seeds, a plate of fruit pastels or fragrant and terribly tasteful piping hot cheburek (deep-fried flat pasty filled with minced meat).
The old wooden counters have long been replaced. Intricate design of widely ramified reinforced concrete palms support the big roof over the sparkling white marble counters and pavilions. However, as before, the rumble of human voices hangs over the rows with sellers praising their goods and customers captiously bargaining, performing the centuries-old ritual.
The modern trade globalization provides an opportunity to purchase practically everything at the bazaar, whatever you want. It is natural that exotic Asian assortment from the Turkmen fields and vegetable gardens is on sale here: melons, pomegranates, grapes, dried fruits and vegetables are sold all year round. But the time brings in new stuff to the traditional bazaar assortment. Demand is followed by supply. Enterprising sellers have long treaded out the way to neighboring countries and foodstuff manufactured in Russia, Turkey, Iran and even European countries come in great supply.
Next to foodstuff one can find articles of popular trade and a full range of consumer goods.
Many people are seen buying meat. By the way, the most popular fresh-dressed meat at the market costs no more than Russian Rouble 60.00.
Tempting smell leads better that any guidebook to the fast food counters. Like many years ago, golden chebureks are fried here, juicy manty are sold, and wonderful drink, camel chal (fermented milk) is offered. A little further, the smoke over braziers indicates the place where fragrant mutton shahlyk is cooked.
The rhythm of life at the market adds a positive tone to the human mood. I can't remember seeing a single sad face here, even once. There may be preoccupied, serious, thoughtful but never sorrowful faces. Bazaar is an anthem to the human enterprising, and hence to optimism. A dialog between a seller and a customer is far from limited to the exchange of information on the quality and value of goods. It is simply indecent to start a talk without wishing successful work, asking general questions about the family, weather or prospects for the future harvest. Sometimes, a visit to the bazaar is limited to such conversation. One can leave the bazaar without buying anything, but he would definitely feel his close connection to the life of society. The bazaar psychotherapy makes a man feel a little bit better.
Whatever newly-fashionable modes of trade and attractive blinking neon signboards of modern trade centers are, it is simply impossible to imagine the life of citizens of Turkmenistan without the bazaar. And there is no need to do so. The bazaar is eternal, for it s a bazaar.
"TURKMENISTAN" magazine, № 1, 2006