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Samarkand Market and Money in Uzbekistan

Our second day in Samarkand was a free day and everybody was up for something different. Emilie stayed in bed suffering from food poisoning. Sam also stayed in bed suffering from alcohol poisoning. Jason was working on his accounts and cleaning the truck since Sam wasn’t able to do so. Isabella and Mike went to see a mausoleum out of town which was recommended by the Lonely Planet. Chris was strolling around in town trying to get in touch with local people. Paul was reading a book about Genghis Khan. Wayne was searching for an internet café which actually has internet access available. Alistair and the two brothers from the UK hired a private taxi for a trip to the nearby mountains.

I had a relaxing morning in the hotel and went to the food market in the afternoon. Most supermarkets in Uzbekistan do actually not sell vegetables and fruits. In order to buy fresh stuff you need to go to a market. They are split into different sections such as vegetables, fruit, dried fruit, bread, wheat, meat etc. In each section stall-owners sell products related to the section they are sitting in. Some of them sell a selection of products such as watermelons, bananas and cherries in the fruit section. Others are specialized in one product, e.g. only sell watermelons.

The fruit section of the market was pretty small and there wasn’t much choice. The only fruits available were watermelons, bananas, cherries, strawberries and apricots. Also each stall-owner had only a small amount for sale, maybe 5-10kg of cherries and 10 bananas. 1kg of cherries was 7,000 Sum (2.80 USD) and two bananas were 4,000 Sum (1.60 USD). Based on the available quantities and prices I guess fruits are probably considered a luxury item and mainly rich people and tourists buying them.

Speaking of supermarkets, most of them are rather small and have a limited choice of products available. They remind me of the shops we had in Eastern Germany. Probably people don’t miss the choice since they aren’t used to it and don’t know any better. Our local guide Jelol also told us there is one large Russian supermarket a bit outside of town which offers a greater selection of products but is more expensive too.

When I returned to the hotel a few people were just about to leave for the market to buy food for tomorrow’s truck lunch. Our guide changed them 40 USD into 100,000 Sum which is 2 USD per person for lunch. The largest denomination of Sum available is a 1,000 Sum note (equals 0.40 USD) so for 40 USD they got a package of 100 single notes which isn’t very handy to carry. Our guide told us when he bought a little TV they needed four bags to carry all the money to the shop.

Whenever we need to change money we do so with our guide. He’s always carrying a backpack which some local money with him just in case somebody needs to change. I haven’t seen many official money exchange places and I also heard it’s very hard to withdraw money from the bank since they often have no money available. The “black market” is offering a much better exchange rate than banks since people are keen on US Dollar cash. When Uzbek people want to travel they need US Dollar cash but they can’t really exchange their currency into Dollar with their local bank.

Many Uzbek people also don’t deposit their money in a bank since they don’t want the government to know how much money they have and once money is deposited at a bank they might have difficulties withdrawing it. It might also happen the government is confiscating deposited money when they building a new hospital or a new road and you as a citizen are expected to contribute to it. Uzbek people also fear inflation, especially overnight inflation as it was the case many years ago where millions of people lost nearly everything they had. Therefore, investments in tangible items such as houses or cows are very popular.

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