Ramadan nights and Saudi bazaars |
Arab News - 03 August, 2012
Author: Maha N. Mufti
Usually,when one hears the word bazaar, it evokes images of oriental souks in narrow, densely populated streets, with exotic objects, silk carpets and aromatic spices on sale. Bazaars are also synonymous with flea market stalls, set up in back yards or neighborhood streets, where you can find bargains among vintage clothing, bric-a-bracs, and hand-made crafts. They can also help raise money for charitable causes.
In Saudi Arabia, particularly in my hometown Jeddah, over the last 15 years bazaars have evolved into something entirely different. They started off being organized by a group of women who would set up a bazaar in someone’s garden, renting out stalls to women who started small businesses but didn’t have shops to sell their products and homemade goods at reasonable prices. Usually, only women attend these bazaars. Eventually, organizers started charging a little extra for the stalls they rent and also charged attendees at the entrance. The extra money was collected in support of their favorite charity.
Bazaars are usually held several times a year, but especially during the month of Sha’baan and the holy month of Ramadan of the Hijri calendar. It is during these months that Saudi women tend to spend the most; In Sha’baan they buy clothing and goods in preparation for Ramadan, and in Ramadan, they shop in preparation for Eid, the religious holiday that follows the end of the month of fasting.
For some years now, bazaars in Jeddah have retained the tradition in name only. Larger organizations are now in charge of setting up these events. Most of these bazaars are no longer held in people’s gardens, but rather in large privately owned exhibition halls and five-star hotels.
No longer limited to enterprising individuals, various companies and retailers have become involved. Photographers, confectioners, clothing designers, artisans, jewelers and many more - all rent space but at exuberant prices. Renting space at these events is expensive, with some places charging up to SR20,000, thus business owners large and small have increased their prices consideribly. In addition, they have to give a certain percentage of the money they make to a charity the organizers are involved with. Indeed, some hike up their prices so that instead of it being cheaper to buy their products at the stalls, they are far more expensive than at the shops. Merchants believe higher prices are justified in order to cover their extra expenses, including the percentage for charity and of course, to make a profit if they can. Although that is understandable, the fact is this method defeats the original concept and purpose of a bazaar.
Although many might not actually end up making a profit, because despite the large number of women who attend these events, many come and go without buying a single item, or simply buy homemade sweets and pickles on their way out.
Saudi Bazaars are not merely places for selling and buying various goods. They are places to meet and greet, to see and be seen. To attend these events, women of all ages dress in their finest Abayas and prettiest traditional Ramadan costumes. There are stalls that give away or sell food and refreshments, so customers can nibble on sweetmeats, dates or canapés, and drink Arabic coffee, while they look around the stalls and chat to their friends. For women in Saudi Arabia, bazaars have become a source of all-round entertainment, a place to go to take a break from family obligations, but certainly not a place to hunt for bargains. On the contrary, if you are willing and able, you could end up spending far more than if you went shopping at your local mall!
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