The Women’s Bazaar

Each week, Camp Eggers stages a bazaar at which local venders come and sell their wares.  The Afghans sell everything at the bazaar.  One can purchase everything from rugs, tapestries, paintings by local artists, jewelry gems and bootlegged products ranging from Rolex Watches to newly released movies or TV programs.

Today, however, was the Women’s Bazaar.  This event is specially sponsored to give women in Kabul a chance to develop their micro-businesses and, I think, to give them the experience of mixing with other cultures and peoples.  A sort of manner in which to broaden these women’s horizons and opportunities.

It’s a bit nerve tingling to walk through this bazaar.  It’s much smaller.  Much more open and airy than the usual bazaar.  The items on offer are much more limited.  There were no carpets, no bootleg DVDs, no fake Rolex watches.  It was mostly handicrafts and jewelry with a smattering of paintings thereabouts.

The dynamic was quiet and a bit odd for me.  There weren’t too many Afghan men there.  I remember seeing only one Afghan male and one young boy thereabouts.  I spied, perhaps, twenty young girls ranging in age from 6 or 7 to 14 or 15.  A couple of them were quite pretty little ladies.  I counted roughly 30 different booths with one or two women therein.  Each selling scarves, jewelry or paintings.  No huge collections of gems or rings and necklaces.  All offered a small selection.  I think mostly they were selling scarves.  I’ve purchased dozens of scarves in Afghanistan and have no desire to purchase more.

The prices at the bazaar are no longer a bargain.  Not for what is on offer.  I think all of the good bargains were bought out in ’05 and ’06.  After that, somehow the pricing of everything became inflated.  I, for one, refuse to be haggled out of a good price simply because fools came before me and would pay any price.  So, I’ve pretty much foregone the “bargains” to be had at the bazaar since my return.  I purchased a few items and sent them to Unny but nothing like before.

Back to the Woman’s Bazaar.

The only person whom I recognized out there was the woman from the Afghan Scouts.  She is at the other bazaar each Friday.  I suppose she is sponsored by some US scout master and that allows her to gain and edge on the Men in the weekly bazaar.

I bought an item from her a couple of weeks ago.  A special order for Unny.  She was a nice woman and speaks decent English.  She smiled and said hello as I left the bazaar.

And that was the strange thing.  I’m not accustomed to Afghan women smiling at me, greeting me, talking to me.  I wanted to take photos of some of their jewelry but I was nervous about hauling out my phone and snapping away.  Would someone get offended?  Would it freak them out as much as their presence unnerved me?

I don’t think the children would have minded.  They’d have posed prettily more than likely and asked for a tip.  Something along those lines, I’m sure.  However, Afghan women are, for the most part, a mystery to me.  I don’t know how to act around them.  What I might do to get myself or them in trouble.  What cultural faux pas I might make in an effort to be nice and casual about the whole ordeal.

So I walked through the bazaar trying not to make TOO MUCH eye contact.  I smiled and met them eye to eye when they attempted to sell me something.  But didn’t act my usual self as I would have walking through the other bazaar.  And I overpaid for two bracelets simply to support the women who were there.

And therein lies a problem.  I paid double for an item simply because it was an Afghan woman and I felt like it would be idiotic, rude, somehow un-chivalrous to haggle with a woman in Afghanistan.  These women are destined to a life of toil in a land where men rule absolutely.  They will live out their lives as nothing more than baby factories and what little money they can make will be taken from them by their husbands or family.

We think we can somehow make their lives better by staging this “woman’s bazaar.”  It will make very little difference.  I have not seen the attitudes of men change towards women in Afghanistan in the decade that I’ve come here.  Certainly, some men have softened and some who have left Afghanistan will have changed their attitudes and will adapt to the West.  By and large, though, a woman’s bazaar and anything similar to it is a ruse that will make us feel better.  It will do very little for the lot of women in this land.

I wish it were not so.  I can’t say that it will be, though.  That is shame to humanity as a whole.

We hold on to our petty religions and beliefs and the weak pay the price.

I did not intend to write in this manner but this is what ushered forth and this is what I’ll post.

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