A white sedan pulls up at a busy intersection in downtown Tashkent. The driver lowers the window, a man loitering nearby approaches, the driver hands over a fistful of $100 bills, the man hands over a black plastic bag and the car pulls away.
The bag is full of sums, Uzbekistan’s currency, and the two men have just completed one of the myriad everyday transactions that fuel the country’s black market in currency exchange.
Reports of a recent crackdown on illicit money-changing notwithstanding, cash appears to be flowing freely on the black market. In Tashkent’s bazaars, illegal currency dealers stand in their usual spots, softly intoning to passersby: “Dollars, dollars, Russian rubles.”
Those looking to buy conduct a quick exchange in a quiet corner, as police turn a blind eye.
This street trade is the tip of the iceberg: most deals take place behind closed doors, with residents calling up a dealer to make arrangements to buy currency.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.