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NPR's Sean Carberry recently wrapped up an assignment in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. He sent us this postcard after visiting two of the city's most popular bazaars.
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SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Small Chinese motorcycles are one of the preferred methods of transportation in Kabul. Zach Warren, a Georgetown University Ph.D. student who spent years working in Afghanistan, is one of the few Westerners who travels the city on two wheels. One afternoon, I hopped on the back of his rickety motorcycle, and we sliced our way through Kabul traffic. Our destination: the main bazaar in the old city section of Kabul.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)
ZACH WARREN: So this is a central area for Afghans to shop. It's one of the biggest bazaars, and you can buy virtually anything here from dates to mangoes, to toilet paper.
CARBERRY: The bazaar snakes through dirty streets and dodgy alleys lined by old buildings in various states of disrepair. Shop after shop is packed with cheap household goods, mostly imported from Iran, Pakistan and China. This looks like the home improvement aisle. It's all sorts of shops with tools and pulleys and shovels and...
WARREN: You don't have Wal-Mart-style convenience stores. You have rows of a particular product. Teapots, for example, this is - this area here, they're all - this is all for serving tea.
CARBERRY: But there's actually no tea in this section, is there?
WARREN: No. There's no tea, OK?
WARREN: You probably have to go somewhere else for that.
CARBERRY: The bazaar seems to wind on endlessly. At least 80 percent of the vendors and customers are men and boys. There are few women and even fewer Westerners.
WARREN: To be honest, I don't spend too much time here because it's a security risk for me.
CARBERRY: Nice that Zach waited until after we're deep inside the center of the bazaar to mention that point.
WARREN: It was a lot better in 2005, 2006, and sort of progressively gotten worse. During the midday like this, we're fine, but you wouldn't want to be here maybe later at night.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: So despite calls from various vendors to visit their stalls, we hop back on the bike and head across town to another and completely different market, one where you'll actually see some Westerners out shopping.
WARREN: Ah. Welcome to the Bush Bazaar. So this is the bazaar where goods that have, quote, unquote, "fallen off of U.S. trucks" are assembled and sold again.
CARBERRY: It's one of the worst-kept secrets in Kabul that everything in this bazaar is either counterfeit or pilfered from NATO trucks and bases. Vendors are selling industrial-sized cans of ketchup or cleaning supplies, items that look exactly like what you'd see in a pantry or closet at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul. And the prices are less than half of the usual cost. Maple-flavored syrup. (Unintelligible)...
WARREN: Maple-flavored syrup. Oh, yes. So we've got the breakfast cake MREs here.
CARBERRY: Yeah. Maple-flavored syrup. Yeah.
FAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: We speak with the owner of the shop. His name is Fahim, and he's had this shop for two years. Like most of the vendors in the bazaar, he's reluctant to discuss the details of his business with a couple of Westerners with an audio recorder.
WARREN: So he's saying he buys it from a shop at Bagram, and my guess is you can be assured that doesn't happen.
CARBERRY: So if you find yourself in Kabul and want to buy back MREs and combat boots that your tax dollars have already paid for, the Bush Bazaar is the place to visit. Sean Carberry, NPR News.
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