A land of shopkeepers.

A shopkeeper in Buhara

Uzbekistan and to a greater extent, all the former Soviet states along the Silk Road have a huge unemployment problem.

After the breakup of the USSR in 1990 the fabric of the socialist system started to disintegrate. The one thing the Socialists did was provide employment. The work may have been hard, mundane and poorly paid but it was work and it did put plov on the table.

Many of the indigenous inhabitants were nomads, who had been encouraged to come into the cities to work in the Russian and then Soviet factories. Once the factories closed they had no way of earning an income. They were untrained, all but illiterate and no longer had land or stock.

They turned to small business.

Many of the markets we visited are the main supplier of goods to these small family owned businesses.

If you have a table, a chair and something to sell you are in business. You don’t even need a table, as we saw one chap selling bottles of soft drink from a ground floor window.

Another enterprising woman had set her stall up, on one side of a pedestrian crossing, just across the road from a supermarket. She was selling cigarettes and her customers were those who had forgotten to buy their fags when they were shopping for groceries.

In Bukhara there’s a chap who rides the streets with a bike load of bread. He doesn’t make his money from selling the bread but from tourists who pay to take his photo.

On all the main roads leading in and out of cities and towns, vendors line the way. Close to the towns are the main markets with well presented stalls. The further you move out, the more you find the opportunists selling a lesser quality product at a cheaper price.

Then you have the black market money changers, buying foreign currency at a far better rate than you can get in the banks. Their profit comes from on-selling Dollars and Euros to the locals. They prefer to have their savings in a currency that’s not wildly fluctuating like their own.

You also have the Gypsies who make their living by holding their hand out. One of the pillars of Islam is giving to the poor, so they are always assured of a handout.

It was once said that Britain was a land of shopkeepers, I think that mantle has now move to Central Asia.

One Response to “A land of shopkeepers.”

  1. Alex Mifsud says:

    Bruce, when you get back, with this post you’ll be able to solve the rising youth unemployment in Australia. I enjoyed reading this. Cheers, Alex.

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