Two things struck me on my recent trip to Kemalpaşa, and they’re in the title, so no surprises.
The first is the fact that, well, you know all those Turkish goods they sell in the bazaars? I never really thought about this, but those goods don’t get there by any kind of centralized distribution process. From what I saw, those shopkeepers actually go to Turkey, themselves, to restock.
This all came about because I needed to leave the country to reset my visa-free time. I had initially planned to go to Armenia but I got lazy and didn’t want to be away from home for days and days, so Tea arranged for me to get a marshutka into Turkey. There is a guy who goes every Friday. You pay him 25 lari for the round trip, and he’ll pick you up at your home in Kutaisi and drop you off at the border station in Sarpi. (By the way, this post on the TLG blog is intensely useful for navigating the weirdness of this border crossing.)
A few hours later, he meets you back at the border station – where presumably you have crossed back into Georgia bearing all the Turkish goods your two arms can carry – and drives back to Kutaisi, stopping at various Turkish outlet stores on the highway along the way. I got the guy to make a pit stop at Goodwill Batumi, too, so I could restock my peanut butter and Tabasco sauce stash – which is more like a hoard at this point, honestly. Incidentally, having typed out the words “peanut butter and Tabasco sauce,” I now feel compelled to try them in combination (that’s not what I bought them for, but now that I’ve thought of it how can I not?). I’ll let you know how that goes.
All told, this trip takes about 15 hours. There were maybe six other people on the marshutka, all of whom went by appointment (no side of the road pickups, and everyone more or less knew each other, except me, the weird foreign guy with the earring). They were all shopkeepers. They mostly bought textiles and dry goods and detergents. I’m guessing they didn’t pay taxes or that they somehow pay lower taxes than bulk import/exporters.
And I realized that these people are traders. They’re more or less doing the same thing that traders on the Silk Road were doing thousands of years ago, just maybe on a smaller scale. Being from America, where distribution and resale are pretty much integrated with production, it never occurred to me that there were still people whose job was “trader”, whose job description was literally to travel from one location to another in order to purchase cheap goods which they would then sell for profit in their original location. But it’s not just these bazaar stall-owners – there is a guy that turned up in our ezo one day with a carfull of Turkish carpets, which now I realize he must have gone to Turkey to get, to sell to the people who live in the apartment buildings that share the yard. How many ezos are there just in Kutaisi? So many… so this guy makes a living with nothing other than his car, his Georgian passport that lets him go to Turkey for free, and his knowledge of Turkish carpet wholesalers. I have a neighbor who goes to Armenia every week, presumably also to trade something, although I didn’t think to ask what. Traders. Who knew?
The other thing was once I was actually in Kemalpaşa – and this relates to my second realization – everyone spoke Georgian. One woman I got to talking to while shopping for winter clothes for Tea told me that she lived in Kutaisi. It was strange to think that here I was coming from my home in Kutaisi, to Turkey, to buy clothes from a woman who came from her home in Kutaisi, to Turkey, to sell them. Like, we’ve both traveled 200 miles in order to conduct this transaction of ten lari for a pair of (probably knockoff) Nike sweatpants. (I also wondered in what sense she “lived” in Kutaisi – like, does she go home on the weekends? Once a month? Once every 90 days to reset her visa-free stay in Turkey?)
So apparently the microscopic price differences between Turkish goods in Turkey and Turkish goods in Georgia is enough to support an entire town, just 3 kilometers from the border, in which Georgians go to work at stores selling clothes to other Georgians in Georgian, and whatever tariffs there are are enough to make such a town infeasible on the Georgian side despite how much it must cost to go to Turkey every week just to buy new comforters to sell in your Kutaisi bedding stall.
But when I say “everyone spoke Georgian,” I really mean it. They spoke Georgian and Russian and Turkish. I do not speak much Russian or Turkish, and so my language of communication was Georgian. And unlike in Georgia, I didn’t have English to fall back on, and so for basically the first time in my entire stay in Georgia, I had to communicate solely in Georgian for an entire day of completing various tasks like crossing the border, shopping, traveling, conversing, etc. – and ironically I had to leave Georgia to get this experience.
What struck me, though, was that I could do it. I could not only communicate, but I could communicate well about a variety of things. I could paraphrase descriptions of items I wanted. I could say things like “no I don’t like this sweater, do you have something softer?” It was sometimes slow and halting, but generally it was actually fine. It wasn’t really a hassle. Everyone there thought it was totally weird that I was a foreigner who spoke Georgian but not Turkish or Russian. At one point a woman addressed me in Turkish, then Russian, then Georgian, and when I didn’t answer right away she said “romeli khart?” and laughed, which means, “which one are you?” – because in Kemalpaşa, those really are the options. Not a lot of Americans get out that way.
Anyway, a few other assorted observations:
– Batumi is still a shithole. Good lord, I hate that place.
– Turkish people line up. They leave a reasonable amount of space between themselves and the person in front of them. It was amusing to see how this strategy worked on lines with a mix of Georgians and Turks.
– There’s a two hour time difference between Georgia and Turkey. I guess all of Turkey is on İstanbul time or something, and İstanbul is like a thousand miles away from Kemalpaşa, so even though the sun is in the middle of the sky it’s like ten a.m. there, which is irritating because I had to wait for like an hour for Burger King to open.
– Turkish Burger King sucks. I do wonder, though, what they put in their hamburgers to make them taste like hamburgers.
– From Sarp to Kemalpaşa you can get a marshutka. The driver speaks Georgian and you pay in lari. Once in Kemalpaşa, transactions are alternatively in lira or lari depending on the store.
– This song is awesome. They played it on the marshutka to Sarpi: