My Guide to Shopping in Kabul
Posted August 23, 2007; revised as of August 2010

 
I think that one of the best ways to help Afghanistan if you happen to be in the country is to buy locally-produced items, particularly those produced by women. This isn't easy to do, given the growing security problems in the country. Buying locally-produced items is NOT worth unduly risking your life, so if a site below is cited by your security office as off-limits, then stay away; if you violate your agencies security guidelines, you aren't putting only yourself in danger.

Start with your guest house cook: for instance, are the eggs coming from Afghans, or from Pakistan? Ask your guest house manager. If Afghan eggs are more expensive, have a meeting with others at your guest house to see if they would be willing to pay more for locally-produced eggs. You would have to take steps to make sure the more expensive eggs would really be local, and that the extra expense is really valid.

Also think about office purchases: if a new desk is needed, is there a local producer that you could buy from, rather than buying a desk imported from Turkey or India? It's not always possible to buy locally-produced office items, but at least try to buy from a locally-managed importer.

Afghanistan is producing some very lovely items and is returning to some of its long-held artistic traditions that were disappearing under various regimes. I'm very proud to show friends the things I've bought in Afghanistan - some of them have even gone online trying to find Afghan items for themselves as a result. Shopping also is a great way to interact with local Afghans. Go to a store more than once, if nothing else than because items change so quickly. Once you have been in a store a couple of times, you will find warm welcomes every time you come - particularly if you bring your friends. Be sure you vary the times you go to a favorite shop; afternoon is better.

Remember to take your shoes off if others have done so when you enter a shop. Most shops are open on Fridays, but it's a good idea to call to make sure they are open. Many will stay open after 5 on weekdays if you call and tell them you are coming.

My favorite places to shop in Kabul:

For Afghan handicrafts and clothes
(shawls, table linens, purses, dolls, clothes, etc., with traditional embroideries, weavings, and beading. Some jewelry as well.)

Ganjini Showroom
Formerly DACAAR Sewing Centre, this is now a joint showroom for Zardozi, Hadya Gallery (Nooristan Handicrafts), Zarif Design, Boumi and Tarsian & Blinkey. These stores support Afghan artisans and provide a huge amount of lovely things to choose from, in a variety of price ranges. Many of the stores also take specialty orders. I bought two small hand carved Nooristan wooden boxes that collapse down to a fraction of their size, and they are gorgeous. I've also been to the Hadya Gallery workshop, which is down the street from where I work off Darulaman Road, and saw the Afghan artisans working for myself on the Nooristan wooden items. Added bonus at Zardozi: there's a large series of book shelves, filled with mostly English used books (some French and German as well); you can buy a used book for $5 and, if you return it, you get half your money back. Good place to donate your used books as well. The Zardozi complex is around the corner from Kabul City Center and across from Nomaad, off Kolola Pushta Road.
Cell phone is 700287963
for the Nooristan Handicrafts shop nooristanhandicrafts@yahoo.com

Sozan
My favorite place for ornate bedding items, like pillow and bed covers. Or to eat watermelon with the family that manages the place out in their parking lot. Lots of really lovely things that change frequently. All hand-made, supposedly, by Afghan craftswomen. House #551, Street 13, Wazir Akbar Kahm Main Road, opposite Roshan. Most drivers know where it is.
Phone is 799 833178

Rangeen Kaman Artisans
According to a flyer, this is owned by eight Afghan women. It's a smaller shop than the Zardozi complex, but worth a visit. Has hand-made Afghan dolls, the best I've found in Kabul.
Street # 5 Qala-i- Fateullah
Phone: 070015027

For custom-made leather goods
(purses, bags, shoes, wallets, etc.)

Ayoibi Handicraft Store
A small but robust store with a variety of ready-made bags, purses, briefcases, shoes, and other leather items. You can also bring in your specifications for a custom-made bag, purse, gun holster - whatever. You can bring in fabric you would incorporated into the design as well. The original store was destroyed when the Indian Embassy on Jada Wazarat Dakela was bombed in July 2008. Happily, the store owner, Mohammad Yaqub, survived. He's re-opened, but the road is now closed, and because of the security situation, the owner will come to you, at your guest house or place of business, to display his ready-made items and to take orders of custom items. The telephone number for English speakers is 0777893764. The telephone number for Dari speakers is 0799343774. Mohammad Yaqub does not speak English, but if he comes to your office or guest house to take the order, there will probably be somebody available to translate. It's best for you to have a picture, another bag or a drawing to provide guidance for the design. If you need assistance with orders, have more questions, or would like to see a brocure, email gundajon "at" gmail.com (she speaks, German, English, Russian, and Dari).

For clothes

Ganjini, Sozan and Rangeen Kaman Artisans each have some women's clothes. Rangeen also has a nice selection of men's shalwa kameezes.

Awwsom
This is the best place in Kabul to get something tailored, IMO. You can bring something from somewhere else, or, you can choose from the clothes they already have and design something entirely new. They can do anything - shirts, skirts, dresses, or suits, as traditional or as contemporary or Westernized as you like. Awwsom is on Karte Char. Take Darulaman road out of the Deh Mazang traffic circle toward the palace ruins, make the first right at the huge mosque and the German Automotive Academy Afghanistan. It will be down a ways on the right. They also have a shop at one of the ISAF markets. I got a jacket made here that is just all that, as we say in the Southern USA... I can't wait to wear it and, when people ask me where I got it, I can proudly say, "It's from Afghanistan .

M. Hussain Andkhowi Handy Craft
This is a rather tiny, obscure shop, very hard to find. They do have some handicrafts, but what's best about this place is its Afghan-style coats. It's one of the better selections you will find anywhere, for decent prices (if you know how to negotiate). The coats are done mostly in the fashion of Northern tribes, but you can also buy the famous President Karzai blue and green-striped jackets. The coats don't close in the front and the sleeves don't reach past your wrists - they aren't supposed to. For women, they are fantastic to make your non-appropriate outfits in Afghanistan suddenly quite appropriate! Don't be afraid to ask to try on lots of different coats, which are pulled out from tight stacks along the walls. I tried on probably 30 to find two I wanted. I also was lucky enough to find a tunic as well. The guys here don't speak English, but they know how to make a sale. They can try to push some things on you that you don't want -- be absolute about what you don't want to see, and they will back off. The address is on Zarghuna Maidan, in Shar-e-Now. It's around the corner from Le Bistro, and you can get to it by making your first left off Chicken Street. They don't speak English, but their phone number is 799 381796, and if they hear an English speaker on the other end of the phone, they will try to find an English speaker to talk to you.

For carpets

Najeeb Zarab Market
Qaway Markaz
This is a major Afghan carpet market, with several different sellers in this one big complex, which makes it really easy to compare different shops and prices. MUCH better deals than anything on Chicken Street or the ISAF markets. Also, the way the complex is set up makes you protected from the street. I've bought carpets at the complex from Rasool Zada Andkhoie Carpets Co. Ltd., which is the first shop on the right if you come in on the entrance to the complex on the left as you face the building.

For movies, shawls, unusual items or a nice day outside:

ISAF markets
I don't know how to tell you where these two markets are. One is on the same street as the downtown UNAMA compound, and one is near the US Embassy. The one near the UNAMA compound is the better of the two, in my opinion - the market is mostly covered. The other is worth going to at least once, but note that everything has been out in the sun for a long time, including movies. These markets are for military folks to be able to do some local shopping, so security is VERY tight. If you take a taxi, you will probably have to get out down the street and walk a block or so to either of these you are planning on visiting. Have your passport or organization ID - you will be checked before entering. Everything is a bit over-priced, but it's a nice way to be able to walk around outside in a safe environment, and you can find some interesting items. If you buy a DVD that doesn't work, most places will take it back. Decent jewelry prices, if you know how to negotiate. Do NOT buy a carpet here - way overpriced! Also, for the woodwork that is supposedly from Nooristan, go to Zardozi instead (see above).

For groceries

My favorite grocery store was the one right across from Shahre Naw Park (the one with Park Cinema in it). I think it was called A-1 grocery story. They had a great selection, it was well-lit, the staff was super nice, and I felt safe there. I have no idea if it's still there.

Also know that, as of Summer 2010, Afghan Women Business Council (AWBC) and MEDA Afghanistan have a Farmers Market in Kabul that runs 2-3 times a week until the harvests are finished. The market is at the main gate of the Badam Bagh, from 9 am to 4 pm on selected days. A message from a MEDA representative said, "Please have your House Manager or cooks go and check our women's produce - they are of good quality and very clean! They are selling fresh produce from our women-farmers garden in Parwan - tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cucumbers and eggplants as well as the produce from the Badam Bagh gardens - broccoli, green beans, zucchini, sweet pepper, okra, green and red cabbage, etc." MEDA is assisting over 2,300 women in nine villages in Parwan province to produce, process, package and market vegetables in villages and provincial centers. And you would help tremendously by getting your house manager to buy at least some of your guest house food from there.

Also see Suggestions for Women Aid Workers in Afghanistan

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