Shop But Don't Drop Me
March 24, 2007

 
Wednesday, the official New Year's Day here, I went with my Kenyan colleague, Anne, to two "super markets" out on Jalalabad Road - Supreme and Blue. I was deeply disappointed in both. The little market down the street from me has just as good a grocery selection, with much more reasonable prices. But I was glad to have seen them, and to have just even gotten out. Afghans were *everywhere* out on the street and having picnics all over the tops of the hills around town, for the New Year. Everyone was dressed in their very best clothes. People had hung out colorful banners - not with writing on them, just the colors: blue, green, yellow, orange. Kites could be seen all on the countryside. There was a joy and, literally, color in the air I haven't seen here before. It reminded me once again that this is a city bursting with potential as a tourist destination. It could so happen, if they could get the security situation radically-altered. And they need central, easy-to-find places where you can buy verifiably women-made handy-crafts, drink some tea, and sit in a garden. You can find all that here now, but none of it's near each other, and it's all REALLY hard to find.

I had watched a little of the Kabul New Year celebrations at the city's large stadium on TV: various groups were parading around the running track - all men, ofcourse. Everything from men carrying shovels to the Afghanistan Taekwando club. They all looked so proud.

The Supreme and Blue super markets have no street signs - you just have to know which street to turn down, and which guarded entrance is the right one. I liked Blue better of the two, but the jaw-dropping prices kept me from buying much at either - just a can of Pringles potato chips and a carton of cranberry juice (yes, Stefan, I can't get it in Germany, but I can buy it in freakin' AFGHANISTAN). Supreme has some office containers across from the shop, with a place that does haircuts, manicures and pedicures. There's also a DHL office. Both shops have cheesy, overpriced I-was-in-Afghanistan t-shirts and what not.

It was surreal driving down Jalalabad Road, not only because there had been a suicide bomber there a few days ago, but because when our driver saw two armored vehicles in his rear-viewed mirror, he started flying down the road as fast as he could, to put as much distance between them and us as possible - armored cars are the targets for bombs and what not. It felt like we were being chased. He was so happy to pull off the road at last to go to the super markets. So was I.

I also went shopping after work one day earlier this week with co-workers to a tiny shop off chicken street that sells long jackets from Uzbekistan. One makes for a fantastic any day/any weather butt cover. The other is much fancier, and definitely only for cold weather and special occasions. I thought I had paid too much, but then I quit beating myself up -- its money that goes directly to help local people. Hope I fed a family or two. Shopping with Anne is a TRIP. She is The Queen when shopping: she goes through everything as meticulously as Mamaw at a yard sale, she asks for better things that are on display, or for things on the tallest shelf, and when she sees something she likes, she points and says simply, "Bring." She rolls her 'r's slightly when she says it. She's unshakable when it comes to the price she will pay and what alterations she wants. She will flick her hand and walk away expressionless when she decides she's not going to buy something, no matter how much the shop keeper badgers. She's my shopping hero. She also worships Oprah. But then, how can you not?

On Friday, Anne and I went to the outdoor ISAF market in downtown Kabul. ISAF is the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. This outdoor market is every Friday on ISAF grounds, and it's for Afghan vendors to ply their wares to members of the ISAF forces. Lots of barriers to drive slowly through and then more to slowly walk through - it felt very secure. For sale: pirated movies, scarves, carpets, jewelry, crafts supposedly made in Afghanistan but probably imported from surrounding countries, sun glasses, etc. I should be upset about the pirated movies - ethics and all that -- but, I swear, those people are doing a public service. People here would go nuts without being able to buy cheap movies. Absolutely nuts. Most things are over-priced at this market - especially the carpets (and, yes, I totally intend on buying a carpet at some point, just not there). It was mostly men there buying - very few women. And almost everyone was in bullet proof vests and what not. And then there was me and Anne, la la la. The market is hard to get into, and very secure, so I'm not sure what the deal was with all the personal armor-wearing. I did buy some things - I'm getting much better at bargaining, with Anne as my model. Although Rebecca, formerly of Henderson, was a rather good model in Cairo when I went shopping with her once upon a time. Anyway, I got measured for a burka. I talked to Stefan on iVisit on Friday night (it's our usual Friday night ritual; I still like it so much more than Skype), and when I told him I'd been measured for a burka, he said, "I hope it was a woman who measured you!" I told him no, it was a guy, and he only measured one thing - my head. He laughed. Next to the vendors was this huge pitch for sports, and I just wanted to take off running through it so badly, waving my arms and yelling, "I'm free! I'm free!". But I probably would have been shot, so I didn't.

This is really long, but it is SO worth reading: It's from the Muslim Women's League USA, and it's on what the Koran REALLY says about what women - and MEN's - dress should be. Also on the site is what the Koran REALLY says about whether or not a man may beat his wife. Just love how holy books get interpreted ALWAYS to the detriment of women...

In one of my connected moments, I got to see the following (thanks Erica); it's a MadTV parody about the iRack". It should win an Emmy.

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