Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bed Bath and Bazaar

Bazroba, as we call the metastasizing tumor of a market squaloring all over the area by the central train station in Tbilisi, is no place to dip your toe in and test the water. This is a full-on, no-holds, plug-your-nose and squint-your-eyes and cannonball off the high-dive kind of a joint.

See, in Georgia, there’s a real getting-things problem. Not many goods are manufactured here, and sophisticated importing and retailing operations have not taken root. So it’s a bit ad-hoc, a bit mish-mash, it’s individuals who have a lead on plastic tubs from Turkey, or electronics from Dubai. As a rule, the retailing model is not so much corner hardware store or WalMart, it's just Bazroba, for everything. And what Bazroba is, is acres upon lost acres of tables piled up with miscellaneous crap, under tarpaulin.

If you're a claustrophobic, if sensory overload makes you batty, if you find peace and succour in antiseptic shopping malls with piped, hidden music, price tags, and a language you speak, it's not really going to be your scene. And until recently, it's definitely not been mine.

But now I've got friends.

Fruit Lady - Silhouette

After promptly exploding the power supply to my brand-new wireless router, I seized the chance to test just how native I've gone. I mean, going to bazroba for a light bulb or a kettle is one thing, but a somewhat specialized piece of electronic equipment was ambition of an entirely higher order. Could I, or could I not, plunge into bazroba, pantomime my way into an operational power converter, and make it out intact? I was feeling confident.

Inside the market, I skated past the women shuffling along the dirt floor selling hot cheese pastries, the village men pushing wheelbarrows full of beer cans, I ducked and weaved through the tangles of pans and blankets and scarves and basketballs, utterly lost but looking purposeful.

Eventually, after Hansel-and-Greteling my way into the heart of the place, I paused at a table that seemed to offer a variety of electronic goods: light sockets and bulbs, electrical switches, fuse-looking thingies. The merchant approached me, and I took out of my bag the non-operational power plug.

"This," I said in Russian. "Does not work. I need a new one. Do you have something?"
"Yes, I am sure we will find something! Let's see!" He took it and checked the size and the voltage and started rummaging through his piles. While he pulled out various half-damaged models and examined them, he started asking me questions.
"Where are you from?"
"I am from the USA."
"The USA?" He dropped whatever he had been holding and turned his attention to me. "The USA?! Really? Where in the USA?"
"I'm from Texas."
I think I could hardly have uttered anything that would cause more joy. He threw his hands in the air, shouted "Texas!", and then pantomimed holding a rifle. "Pow, Pow! Texas! Pow!" he shouted.
"Yes, that's it exactly," I confirmed.
I have a theory that Georgia and Texas would get along really well if they met at a party. Both proud of being friendly, both fond of their guns, and both perfectly happy to chuck one for the other at a moment's notice.
"Dallas?" he asked hesitantly.
"I am from Dallas," I said. "My family still lives there."
He shook his head sadly and clucked his tongue. "Kennedy..."
"Ah yes. We're all very sorry about that."

By now he'd found me a suitable model and thought I should give it a try. "If it doesn't work, just bring it back," he said. "I never say that, but..." he clasped his hands in the air and shook them above his head. "United States! Texas!!"

Well, sorry to say, it didn't work. But I think it was worth every tetri. I had to go back to Bazroba today with a friend, and as we rounded a corner in that messy maze, what should I hear but a voice calling out "Suzie!" There was my pal, and he told me that any friend of mine would get a discount on any of his products. So listen up, any of ya'll have cause for some lamps or power cords or switchy-things, I'm all hooked up in Bazroba. Yeeha!
Radio Shack - Tbilisi Style


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