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.

Walking around Camp Stone on a Friday morning

Art for Unny's Bangkok Cafe

I walked over the bazaar to say a final farewell to a friend.  Hossein sells bootleg DVDs at Coalition Camps all over Herat.  I’ve run into him all over the place.  Primarily at the RTC, Camp Stone and Camp Arena.  I’ve seen him tooling around downtown Herat once or twice as well.  We struck up a friendship of sorts over the past couple of years.  So I stopped by to say farewell.

While I was doing that, I ran into the Tea Pot.  Unny wants to have a small cafe in Bangkok.  So I figured it would make a nice piece to display at such a place.  I picked it up for her.  It’s inlaid with turquoise, lapis and some kind of red stone.  I like it.  It’s a nice little piece that I think she’ll like as well.  It’s decorated with figures from Hindu and Buddhist mythology which ties in nicely with Thailand.  Garuda is front and center in the picture.

The other pics are just random shots taken as I waswalking about the bazaar area and the camp.

a bazaar experience

Every week the Afghanis bring the Bazaar onto compounds all across Afghanistan. They sell everything at these bazaars. Cheap electronics from Pakistan and China. Bootleg DVDs. Carpets and tapestries from Tabriz, Konduz, Herat, Chagcharan, Mazr-e Sherif and other places. Jewels and Jewelry. Lapis Lauzuli rocks and sculptures. Wooden jewelry boxes. Knives and swords and muskets and rifles as well. You can even purchase a burqa for a souvineer, if you please.

Most of the times that I cruise down to the bazaar, I’ll bring some candy or pastries from the Dining Facility. There are always young kids at the bazaars. They accompany their Fathers and Uncles. Learning the family trade.

Down in Kabul, you’ll actually see women and some young girls at the bazaar. It’s rare, though.

The young fellow in the video is from Herat. He and his father make the rounds of bazaar day at the various camps. I recorded this video at the Italian ISAF in Herat. It was my first time at this particular camp. We had stopped there so the PMTs could make some coordinations with the Italian Caribinieri (Police).

I walked up to their bazaar and waved to the little bubba. I’d recognized him from the bazaar at Camp Stone. He waved back and I continued on to see if the bootleg DVD stall had a good copy of 10,000 BC yet. They didn’t. So they asked me if I wanted to buy a rug instead. lol I know. Strange logic. When I was able to escape, I made my way around the bazaar. I walked over to the kids table and started to play with knives and brass knuckles. When I walked up to look at the knives, he was singing. So I decided to try to capture him on video. As soon as I pulled out my phone, he stopped. Just smiled shyly at me. I couldn’t get him to resume for nothing. I even tried to bribe him. But all he would do was smile or laugh. It was pretty funny. Cute kid. Always smiling.

I still haven’t been able to get a good copy of 10,000 BC.

Lapis lazuli (sometimes abbreviated to lapis) is a semi-precious stone prized since antiquity for its intense blue color.

Lapis lazuli has been mined in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan for 6,500 years, and trade in the stone is ancient enough for lapis jewelry to have been found at Predynastic Egyptian sites, and lapis beads at neolithic burials in Mehrgarh, the Caucasus, and even as far from Afghanistan as Mauritania.[1]

Lapis lazuli is a rock, not a mineral: whereas a mineral has only one constituent, lapis lazuli is formed from more than one mineral.[2]

from wikipedia