In the supermarket corridors prevails globalised emptiness. Cornflakes lean against rolled oats, chocolate bars give monumental yawns right next to packages of Indian ready made gulab jamin. The international expat crowd is eagerly shoving through the shopping lanes. The exact same scene could play out in New York or Berlin (with a bit more organic food and tofu variations maybe). The same bored and boring faces. And as I look into the abyss of globalised emptiness, I simply yawn back at it. This is shopping in Kabul, where it is just as satisfyingly easy to find anything as quick as you want as in any other supermarket. Just three time as expensive (measured against the local prices). Welcome to ‘Finest’, as they call this ‘shopping-paradise’ here.
But hadn’t a friend of mine just mentioned other local markets? Vegetable markets, bazars in which one could buy knives and air matrasses, army supplies and canned milk? Doesn’t it sound at least a little bit more like adventure, fun and the good old barter? My fingers have dialed the number of my adventure-dealer faster than I can think more about it. A date is found just a couple of days later.
10 a.m., Bush Bazar.
A lively buzz goes through the narrow alleys. Imagine a mixture of small shopping street with private homes lined with food stalls, bags, coats and sleeping bags dangling from overhanging roofs, piled beddings on the alley sides, little fortress walls made out of washing powder cartons and here and there a vegetable seller’s display. In between are vendors, and fruit sellers with tablets full of dried mulberries. And of course the customers, like we are.
I’m excited like a little kid as I love to venture out on markets. The bustling buisyness, walking in and out of shops, haggling and establishing a relationship with the seller that might build up to a temporary friendship over a tea.
Why the market, locally called ‘Bazar’, has been dubbed ‘Bush Bazar’ is legendary as well as straight forward. Quite a good part of the products (including army clothing, MREs (‘Meals ready to eat’ for soldiers) and army boots), if not most of them, have fallen ‘off the carriage/lorry/Jingle Truck’ (meaning: has been obtained through illegal means) or has been purchased from the surplus of (George W.) Bush’s army for cheap to be resold again. Most of the items seem to come from the 50 km nearby Bagram Base… A friend of mine jokingly proposed to rename the whole market to ‘Obama Bazar’ now that the political arena has changed some years ago…
Stranded on a vegetable chart we pack several bags full. Three of us will have to carry the heavy weekly shopping. Taking a deep breath I take out my money bag to make myself ready for aggressive haggling…
“For the cucumbers?” I ask Ahmad who stands beside me and does the translation.
“No, for everything all together.” Ahmad grins.
“That’s…” my brain calculates from Afghani to 5 US Dollar to 3,50 Euro.
“That’s less than I’d pay for a bunch of onions at Finest!” My smile conveys my disbelief.
The others start laughing and Ahmad says: “who buys at Finest anyways!”
On it goes through the corridors and alleyways that are overflowing with products. There seems to be nothing that you can’t get here. Western canned food en masse. Interested in a pair of good hiking boots? Or in need of a flick-knife, just in case? Boys are running through the visitors with wheelbarrows: they offer us their services. Other people pay them as a shopping-support. Just put your shopping bags into the wheelbarrow and you can swiftly enter here and there a shop to get some more while they wait and push the cart. We turn down the offers and drag on with our bags ourselves – accompanied by the pitiful and curious grins of the boys.
Some shops are totally filled up to the last place with shampoo and cosmetics, others look like little corner shops (in Berlin you’d call them “Spaeti”). While the others have gone off to ask for the prices of mattresses, I look for cheese. In one of the shops I find what I was looking for: the vendor pulls out of the freezer a heavy 3 kg block of cheese. “Can I also get that cut or a piece of it?” I ask amazed by its sheer size. The seller shakes his head laughing. As I look back into the freezer I see a pack of bacon.
Bacon??! In a muslim country? That can just stem from a military base, or?
And who would buy it here? I show the controversial piece of meat in the freezer to my shopping compagnion. He laughs, too.
“I guess some people might buy it for their animals, like for their watchdogs!”
Dogs and bacon? That means in turn the afghan watchdogs might be more carnivore than muslim…
I take the three kilogram piece of cheese with me and close the freezer. Shall the bacon be taken by someone else…no bacon for the husband. I’ll rather make a cheese-party at home…