Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Bazaar Korgon

This morning I took a taxi to Bazaar Korgon, a market town of about 30,000 thirty minutes from Jalalabat. We drove through the gates marking the end of Jalalabat and passed several billboards en route. Most were large paintings of the face of President Askar Akaev, accompanied by a quote in Kyrgyz. Another had the president’s website written over a photo of green mountains. There was a billboard of fantasy-like horses, light colored with long manes, splashing across a river, apparently without a message. The one I found most interesting had a woman in white holding a male child with a soccer ball. “Drivers – remember who is waiting for you at home,” it said.

The road was good and was lined by stunted mulberry trees. We drove amidst snowy unpopulated hills, past an apple orchard and a brick mosque. On one hillside, the mini mosques and palaces of a Muslim graveyard dotted the land. A man sitting on a donkey atop a snowy embankment looked down at the road below, watching us go by. We drove along flat fields toward ridged mountain peaks covered by clouds. These mountains serve as the backdrop to Bazaar Korgon. I’m told if I were continue toward them I’d reach the beautiful village of Arsalanbob.

I walked through brick arches into the teeming marketplace. Vendors sold their goods on either side of narrow, muddy walkways, flimsy roofs and plastic sheeting overhead kept out the light. Transactions were conducted at close quarters.

I didn’t particularly need anything. I was just entranced by the narrow walkways, the endless stalls, the goods on displays, the way one could enter into the market and not be able to find a way out. I looked at the peanuts in their shells, at the orange rock candy, at the Uzbek manufactured cookies, at the bruised apples, at the plastic bags hanging from rafters. My attention was caught by two boxes containing shiny green wrappers. I took a closer look. It couldn’t be. Nature Valley Oat’s ‘n Honey granola bars?

I picked one up and it looked just like what I buy at home. I couldn’t believe my luck. I hadn’t even seen anything like that in Bishkek, yet I found it in the middle of a bazaar on the Kyrgyz/Uzbek border?

I was bubbling with excitement as I bought a bag full of granola bars. I planned to give some to my coworker, at least one for each of the five people I live with, I could show them something American. Something I just happened to find here.

And the price was great. 30 som (75 cents) for at least 20 individual bars. What a bargain.

Later that afternoon, after lunch, I opened the first bar, expectantly, looking forward to the oats and honey, the familiar crunch. Imagine my disappointment when I found a wafer instead, the standard local wafer, and rather stale at that. I opened another and found the same thing.

When I explained what happened to my coworker, with whom I’d been planning on sharing them, she laughed. “That vendor must have been pretty excited that you bought so many!” she said.

And thinking back on it, he looked at me blankly when I told him with excitement that we eat these things overseas and he didn’t answer when I asked him where he found them.

I learned my lesson in not trusting the packaging here. But if only Nature Valley knew that someone had gotten ahold of their wrappers and were selling stale wafers wrapped in their packaging, in a dark little bazaar in Kyrgyzstan.

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