On one of my outings, I found the camel market - acres and acres of camels with their owners in the process of trading and selling camels. Apparently the role of the camel in the Afghani society was central to the economy. They were used for personal transportation, goods transportation, breeding for improved animals and food.
One of my favorite possessions, which I was wearing at the time, was a clear Lucite watch. It was unusual in the U.S. and totally unique in Kabul. There were several young boys that followed me through the market, begging me to trade the watch for their camel. It was a tempting offer; however, I could not fathom how I would get the camel home to Massachusetts. I explained this to no avail, they really wanted my watch. I was able to escape the market without a camel and with my watch.
On another day, I went for an adventure into the Hindu Kush Mountains. I had a car, driver and young engineering student who wanted to show me the sights. We navigated incredibly narrow roads through passes with sheer cliff drops on one side and sheer mountain walls on the other. It was not comforting to see the wrecks of previous travelers in the hollows far below us as we drove. One rather large truck had crashed over the edge just the previous day.
The student had befriended me hoping I would help him get to the U.S. to do his doctoral work. At that time I was not associated with any universities, but this did not seem to concern him. His English was excellent and therefore he was a great help to me in moving around Kabul and getting to the mountains.
We ended up in a tiny mountain village named Istalif. We exited the car at the bottom of a small mountain and started to climb using a dirt path. As we ascended, we passed vendors whose “shops” were set up at the openings to their dwellings, which were hollowed out caves in the mountain. There were many children who gathered around us yelling “Hello” – the only word they knew in English. They were delighted when I took their pictures and wanted to touch me, but were not asking for money as one might think. They were just excited to see a Western woman.
The shops were fascinating. Istalif is known for its Lapis Lazuli jewelry and carpets. We saw jewelry makers working with primitive tools and were given a private demonstration of carpet weaving on a simple wooden loom. It was all lovely and the personal attention was great fun. We were the ONLY non-residents in the entire village that day. Of course, I bartered for some jewelry and a small example of the carpet – a little doll-sized one on its little wooden loom.
The most disturbing shop was the butcher. He was displaying a chopped up camel lying in the dirt covered with flies. Anyone for roast leg of camel?
The student and I were tired and hungry at that point, despite the dead camel, but he found out from the children that there was an inn with a restaurant further up – “not far!” After a vertical ascent for about 45 minutes – my thought was “far!” We got to the top of the cold mountain, which was a good thing as we couldn't walk any more, and, Voila! - there was the inn.
It was closed, however.
Through much negotiation and exchange of cash, were able to broker a deal. We had to rent a room to get a fire and then be served chai and hard boiled eggs.
The trip down the mountain was easier and once I reached the car, I slept all the way back to Kabul.
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