Michael's Dispatches

Whatzis?

24 September 2008
Jalalabad, Afghanistan


The shawal kameez is standard wear for Afghan men.  Since I plan to spend a great deal of time exploring Afghanistan unembedded, I headed into downtown Jalalabad to pick out the material and get fitted by a local tailor.  My Afghan guide and I walked through the markets for nearly two hours.  The only western presence we encountered was when two American OH 58 Kiowa helicopters flew high overhead, and I wondered for a moment if I might know the pilots.

Selecting the material.

Jalalabad is mostly safe, and I felt no threats walking the backstreets and the crowded bazaar, save for one time my danger bell chimed.  There was a young man wearing a black shawal kameez with a bandage on his head and one eye puffed closed.  He gave a long hard look with his one good eye, and I stared back.  But the other thousands of people I saw either seemed to ignore me or were overtly friendly.  I felt safe.  When I travel in northern India, if someone says “hello” in an urban environment, I am immediately suspicious about what’s coming next.  Yet here in Jalalabad, dozens after dozens of people said hello, or gave a thumbs up, and that was it.   Sometimes we shook hands and they just said goodbye and walked away smiling.

The Tailor’s Shop: They were all smiles and laughter and wanted me to photograph them, but the moment the camera came up, they took a serious pose.  Then they started smiling again, wanting to see the photo.  My shawal kameez (similar to the one the tailor is wearing) will be ready on Thursday.

When we shopped for a few items, such as the material for the shawal kameez, there was none of the hard selling or pushy shopkeepers that can be found in many Asian countries.  The atmosphere was altogether peaceful.  One shopowner was a Sikh, and I asked if he was from India, but he was Afghan.  In India and the U.S., I’ve always had good luck with Sikhs.  They tend to be honest and straightforward.

This Sikh man was selling shoes.

There are even some Hindus here.  Interestingly, down south in Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan, up in Kabul, and out here in Nangarhar province, most everyone seems to hate or at least greatly distrust the Pakistanis.  Yet when I ask Afghans what they think of Indians, every Afghan I have asked, and that would be many, express affection for Indians.  I ask the Afghans, “You don’t care that most Indians are Hindus?”  “No, no, we don’t care.  We are Muslims and they are Hindus, but we like India.  The Indian people are welcome here.”  Yet the Muslims in Afghanistan do not like the Muslims in Pakistan, while the Hindus in India, in my experience, equally despise Pakistan.  Yet Americans who travel to Pakistan (I have yet to go myself), have always given me positive reports about the people.  From a distance, it looks like all Pakistanis hate all Americans.  Yet, again, the Pakistanis I meet around Asia have always been hospitable and even gracious to me.  I am convinced that we often go to war based on mostly false perceptions of each other.

We kept strolling around the market.  Dozens more people smiled, while many wanted their photos taken, or wanted to shake hands quickly and walk away.

Whatzis?

Mista take piktcha!

Some of the foodstuffs I could identify, but others left me clueless.  There were many stands selling peanuts.  I was getting hungry, but was told that Afghans do not boil peanuts, so we kept going.   It’s Ramadan so the Muslims are not eating or drinking during the day time.

Whatzis?

Gun store.  What kind of guns are these?

Anybody know?  Please leave comments.

Whatzis?

Side one

I came across a coin (at least that’s what I think it is) in the bazaar.  It looked very old, and so I took a few photos, hoping that a reader might be able to identify it.  Maybe it’s a real coin, or perhaps a counterfeit.

Side two

And so it was just another day in Afghanistan, shopping in the bazaar, talking with the people, seeing all sorts of things, some I could identify, others I couldn’t.  Luckily, I can ask readers around the world – Whatzis?

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