Our Turkish Pazar in Pandemic Times
The weekly pazar must go on - but this time with maks, thermometer guns, hand sanitizer, and performative social distancing.
Upon entering the weekly Selçuk pazar (pazar = bazaar/market), a police officer distractedly takes our temperature while smoking a cigarette and chatting with his friend. We enter into the town center which seems to be largely unaffected by the 2020 pandemic except for the increase of masks for sale at the corner bakkal (bakkal = general store). I wrestle with the internal delight of seeing colorful produce and the external concern of the unmasked vendors selling me a product in a populated and compressed space. We have decided that coming earlier in the morning is the best strategy - there are more fresh fruits and vegetables, and fewer people - early, productive Saturday mornings are not typical in Turkish culture.
The call to prayer is announced and the market halts, people turn their palms upwards and stop speaking. After just a couple of minutes, the prayer ends and some people resume their commerce while others wish their fellow market vendors, “Hayırlı işler” or “Have a good workday.” One witty vendor yells to a passing shopper, "Bir şey duştu!" or "Something fell!" to which the shopper halts and examines their belongings, "What fell?" they say. The vendor proudly replies, "Our prices!"
Today, we forgot our rolling shopping cart - rookie mistake, especially because Salih’s mom called as we were driving and asked us to pick up her supply of weekly goods in addition to ours. In the beginning, we each take a bag - herbs, tomatoes, onions, the load is still light. But with time and more purchases, the plastic bags deposited on our forearms slowly start to deepen into our skin. Our casual market perusing turns into a hasty charge to the car to dump the load and regain feeling in our fingers.
Since moving out to the village at the start of the pandemic, we have been able to experience the distinct harvest seasons at the market from Spring to Summer in the Aegean region of Turkey. It started with an explosion of strawberries, artichokes, and mulberries with the departure of broccoli, chestnuts, and pumpkin. Now we are in the season of swelling watermelons, peaches, zucchinis, and plums. In just one month, we will be flooded by figs, pomegranates, and grapes ready to be devoured.
Instead of the panic for toilet paper, residents of Selçuk frenziedly purchased seeds and saplings to grow food in their home gardens. As a result, there is a surplus of fruits and vegetables selling at low prices. However, as the feelings of doomsday dissipate, the weekly pazar feels more and more familiar - purchasing from our usual vendors, bumping into extended family, and buying more than our arms can carry. The official statistics from the Turkish government show that the situation is improving and without delay, the pazar follows suit and restores itself to a delightful and reliable form of chaos.