The open-air bazaars of Tbilisi began with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, as newly-independent Georgia experienced political and economic turmoil. Having lost their jobs and homes, newly-destitute citizens began selling their possessions as hyperinflation decimated pensions and savings.
At the Navtlughi Bazaar in Samgori, different nationalities congregate with the same objectives. Georgians, Russians, Armenians and Azeris work side by side without regard for ethnic origin. Many vendors have been here for 20 years.
About a year ago, there were only a few sellers selling in the open-air market on Mevele Street. But since the management of the established market doubled the rent on a stall, many sellers decided to set up shop in the open air on the other side of the street. When the weather is bad, they are unable to work, but at least pay a rate of only ₾1 ($0.34) a day.
The oldest member of the bazaar is Nikolai Abazov, a Russian. Despite his 94 years, his memory is sharp.
‘I worked in a military aeroplane factory for 67 years, but my pension today is only ₾200 ($67). It is not enough to live on. I have four children and somehow I still help them because I am a grandfather of 11.’
‘My oldest child didn’t manage to get a job because she knows only Russian. My grandchildren are always checking my pockets when I return home. There are some days when I don’t sell anything and I just pay for my daily rent.’
‘Anything you can find here costs a maximum ₾5 ($1.70) and sometimes I don’t have many things to sell. So the most I can make in a month from this place is ₾200 ($67).’
Tsitso is a 63-year-old woman who has been working at the market for two decades. She is diabetic, which has caused her to partially lose sight in one eye.
She needs ₾200 ($67) to fund a small operation to regain her eyesight. She says it is hard for her to work because she suffers from chronic pain and can barely see. Last month she was bed-bound for three weeks. Her son offered to take care of her but she refused.
‘My son’s house was burnt down in Guria, he has two children, I don’t want to be a burden on him, I work to help him to rebuild his house.’
‘I would rather die than make my son pay for my medication. I want to open a shop in Lilo [a suburb to the west of Tbilisi].
‘It is impossible to sit and do nothing. I need ₾150 ($51) a month to buy all the necessary medicines and some money just to survive.’
Every conversation in the bazaar ends with the words ‘with the grace of God everything will be okay’, a Georgian proverb. With little support from the government, the market sellers must make do with little more than hope and faith.