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The Triplegem Afghan Expedition VI – Kabul, Afghanistan

The Triplegem Afghan Expedition: Kabul Part 5

Kabul, Afghanistan

14 August 2005 – Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul Market Scene
Kabul Market Scene
While I ate my usual breakfast, who should stop by but my old Afghani friend Attaullah! I’d left word with Sayeed on Chicken Street and the grapevine finally did its work. We went across the road to an Afghan restaurant to drink tea and catch up on old times. I hadn’t seen him since my trip in 2002. He was restoring his family’s house and land near Char-i-Kar, a short ways north of Kabul on the fabulously fertile Shomali Plain. After tea we walked around and I met several of his carpet-shop friends. Attaullah is always the middleman, an Afghan doppelganger to Bryan, but an old friend. I felt a bit uncomfortable because I was still wearing the short-sleeved T-shirt I was wearing at breakfast. I usually wear a loose, long-sleeved 5.11 Tactical khaki shirt when I’m out – it’s less likely to offend the conservative Moslem sensitivities. Outside of Kabul I usually wear the local outfit of shalwar-kameez because it was designed for this climate and lessens my foreign profile even more.

We arranged to meet later in the afternoon, and I went back to the Mustafa to check email and talk with Doc, ‘Harley’ Pete and Charlie, etc. Naturally we solved all Afghanistan’s problems before lunch – except for the problem of finding a third rider to Herat. That seemed unsolvable, and I’d already turned my focus to the problem of getting to Mazar-i-Sharif the following day.

In late afternoon I went out to Chicken Street and stopped in on a few friends. First I saw Sayeed Naveed’s uncle, and he took me to his ‘Special’ shop. Most carpet and antique dealers only show their new ‘antiques’ in their main shops. To see the real thing you always have to go elsewhere. These were three second-floor rooms in a nondescript mud building nearby. We climbed rickety wooden stairs and took off our shoes at the door. His place was covered in old carpets, textiles and antiquities – unfortunately, way over-priced. I bought an Islamic Period (A.D. 700 – A.D. 1300) glass bead for 1,500 afs. – About three times the ‘real’ price, but still profitable for me, and I bought it more to pay back the favors I owed him and to maintain our relationship.

Kabul Market Scene
Kabul Market Scene
Then I stopped by Sayeed Naveed’s shop on a small street off of the main Chicken Street just before it turns into Flower Street. As an aside, I mentioned to Sayeed how, when I first visited Kabul in 1972, about a third of the shops on Chicken Street still sold chickens. Now it was experiencing a major building boom. Courtyards with five stories of shops were now opening, and a huge market was under construction. There was a lot of money being made and spent in the area and I was sure that there weren’t enough tourists now or ever that would warrant such a thing.

Sayeed used to work for Attaullah when he had lived in Peshawar. He’d come as a teenager to get away from the Taliban. He returned to Kabul with an old carpet dealer, the Turkoman Hadji, who also had a place in Peshawar’s Khyber Bazaar. The Hadji traveled through the ‘Stans buying old carpets and textiles for his European wholesale buyers. I always bought a few great pieces from them. This time, after going through a number of high quality Uzbek embroideries, he showed me what he called a Lakhai belt. It was embroidered in a special silk chain-stitch style that had become quite rare. I loved the piece, but I was sure the price would be over $1,000. I had a ‘suwari’ – shield-shaped piece – at home that I could sell for $3,000 in Peshawar anytime I wanted, and this was in the same age and chain-stitch. He only wanted $300 for it, so I bought it without bargaining. This is not normal in Kabul, but I’ve known Attaullah for over 30 years, and Attaullah had introduced Sayeed to me. For this quality piece we both knew that it was a fair price, and we’d both be happy. As a matter of fact, since I left it in his safekeeping rather than hauling it around Afghanistan, it was later seen by a Frenchwoman with a big shop in Paris. She offered Naveed $800 for it, but he wouldn’t sell it because he’d already taken my money. Other carpet dealers would not have been so honest. I researched the piece when I got home and was able to identify it as an Uzbek woman’s hairpiece from the rare reference book UZBEK by Thomas Knorr and David Lindhal. Thomas had been my neighbor in Kabul in ’72 and he was the one who had first taught me about carpets and textiles.

Carpet Shop
Carpet Shop
I met up with Attaullah after that and went around to visit several friends of his, drank lots of green tea, and I confirmed that the shared taxis for Mazar could be gotten in the Serai Shomali – and that I needed to be there by 5:30 a.m. Even getting there at 6:00 a.m. would be much too late in Afghanistan. The earlier the better for Afghan travel seemed to be the rule.

I returned to the Mustafa, had a Happy Hour Becks, said my farewells, paid my bill, packed and turned in early. Up at 4:00 a.m. was my plan. The Road to Mazar should be a piece of cake, but I was looking forwards to seeing the Salang and passing through the High Hindu Kush.

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