MarySmith’sPlace – Afghan adventures #10

The bazaar held an endless fascination for me, although the attention my presence attracted embarrassed Hussain horribly.  He hated to see men staring at me. ‘’Mum, pull your chaddar round a bit more, those men are looking.’  With my chaddar pulled down to my eyes and up to my nose I would end up unable to see much more than the road in front of me. As I went about my shopping Hussain would accompany me, his face becoming more and more thunderous as a procession of curious onlookers formed, trooping from shop to shop behind us.

Slide40 (Custom)

A typical bazaar – though rather quieter than usual.

Tiny shops lined both sides of the street. Some were of traditional mud and wood construction but others were large transport containers.  In the shop where I purchased sweets there was only about a yard of standing room. The rest of the floor was taken up by displays of sweets from Pakistan (these were an assortment of caramels and sherbet or chocolate filled boiled sweets, far superior and far more expensive than the plain, Afghan made sweets which came with tea), sacks of walnuts, almonds, dried apricots and sultanas from Jaghoray’s orchards, and cartons of cigarettes. These were mostly Japanese, under licence to the Afghan Government – Seven Stars, Peace – while were rip offs of branded names.

Narrow shelves were stacked with tea glasses and enamel teapots from Russia, tin plates, soaps and talcum powder, fancy hairgrips and ribbons, cold cream and hand lotion, batteries, matches, babies’ feeding bottles, soothers and powdered milk, Chinese toilet paper and countless other items – an entire supermarket crammed into a tiny space.

Other shops sold cloth, their bolts of bright materials adding splashes of colour to the otherwise rather drab, muddy shades of the bazaar. Even the cloth merchants diversified into selling other lines;  tin plates and the metal ‘glasses’ used for drinking water, thermos flasks and hats and prayer caps of every description.  Hats were Hussain’s ‘thing’ and he rarely came back from a shopping spree without a new addition to his collection.  As well as the local, round white caps he was the proud owner of a karakul or astrakhan, a flat, woollen Chitrali hat known as a pakol and a selection of prayer hats, plain white or crocheted in gold and silver Lurex. He had to commission the carpenter to make a hat stand.

As well as fruit, vegetable and meat shops, others sold second hand Russian cameras. Pistols were to be found in one general goods store while bullets were on display in another.  One day our shopping list included explosives and fuses (for blasting through rock for the well at the site of the new clinic) and I was astonished that one could simply ask for such items without an eyebrow being raised. I was extremely nervous on our return journey that day, convinced that the bouncing of the jeep would set of an almighty explosion. Hussain said that at one time even hand grenades and mines were openly sold until the Parties, becoming alarmed at the number of family feuds being settled in such a bloody way, banned them.

Rickety wooden ladders, often with rungs missing, led to the second storey businesses. Here the tailors squatted all day behind their ancient, hand operated sewing machines, turning out clothes – mainly for men as women usually made their own at home – and waistcoats without which the well- dressed men of Jaghoray would not be seen. Small lanes running off the main street led to bakery shops which produced a fragrant array of buns and biscuits, carpentry shops and silversmiths.  Here antique silver coins and beautiful old jewellery, no longer considered fashionable, were turned into modern rings and bangles.

Slide12 (Custom)

A roadside restaurant

At each shop I patronised a crowd would gather, the people closest to me relaying information regarding my purchases back to those unfortunates too far away to actually witness the entertainment live.

‘She’s buying cigarettes. One box of Cabin.’

‘Now she is buying soap. She’s to buy Dove soap. No, no, she’s changed her mind; it’s Camay. She bought the Camay.’

‘Toilet paper. She’s asking for six packets.’

‘Foreigners don’t use water, you know, they use paper.  Disgusting isn’t it?’

‘Oh, she’s finished, she’s leaving now.  Quick, quick, make way.’

Hussain would snarl at them from time to time but within moments the scattered spectators, first the small boys then the slightly more sheepish men, would re-group and fall in behind us once more.

Slide41 (Custom)

This is the kind of bus on which I spent three days getting to Afghanistan.

An outing to the bazaar often ended with a visit to the field hospital so I could see Rosanna, who was still teaching the medical course to the translators/paramedics. Hussain did not care for Rosanna – she was a grown up dictator, and frightened the life out of him – but I welcomed the opportunity to be in the company of another woman. A tentative friendship with Baqul’s wife Fatima was beginning but we could not hope to talk easily until my Dari improved.


34 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – Afghan adventures #10

    • Thanks, John. This was in the days before Taliban came to power when things became much more extreme, though more in the cities than in the rural areas. When Taliban lost power, life for women greatly improved. Abuse of women happens in every country in the world. In Scotland the domestic violence rate soars in Glasgow whenever two particular football teams play against each other. Imagine women getting beaten depending on the outcome of a game of football.


  1. I love the way they called out what you were buying. That was something to have to get used to, I’m sure. But your description of those ‘fragrant buns’ has made my mouth water now, so I might have to have an early lunch soon. Sadly, I have no buns. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The people closest to me were providing the commentary for those further back who couldn’t quite see! I do wish I had more pictures of the bazaar but you can imagine how difficult it was to try to take photos. The bakeries were wonderful. Years later when I was living in Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in the north, my son loved going shopping because the shopkeepers always let him choose something – a cake or a biscuit. He was totally nonplussed when we came here and no one offered him anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Mary, not ones usual bazaar outing!

    Your description of the visit is wonderful, pulling us into the claustrophobic world of your garb as you explored the astonishing array of stalls and their goods! I had to do a double take on the fuses and weapons … a totally different world!

    What a spectacle you caused with your visit and Hussain’s consternation is almost funny … as is the running report about your activities! Not a moment of privacy in this unusual place!

    I’m loving this series, Mary! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Poor Hussain. It must have been difficult for him being so torn between his own cultural norms with regard to how women behaved and were treated (mostly very protectively) and what he knew of mine. We’d spent a couple of years in Pakistan when he was a student going, with a group of other students, on picnics, shopping, out for meals. I think he’d even seen me in a swimsuit! I was terrified driving with dynamite and detonators in the jeep – and if I’d wanted I could have bought my own Kalashnikov for a few dollars.


  4. Pingback: Afghan adventures #10 ~ Mary Smith | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

    • You always ask such interesting questions, Jacquie. You are right that most people were poor, though, as everywhere, not all and there were some quite wealthy landowners. I can’t remember exact prices now but to me everything was very cheap – not so to most of the people who lived there. There was no system of barter – people paid cash for the things they bought. Almost everything I mention in the post was imported as Afghanistan manufactured very little after a decade of disruption and war. Thinking about the soap. I would use my bar of soap every day, washing my hands several times a day, taking a ‘bath’, etc. Some families, though, would only use the bar of Camay when guests came for dinner so it lasted a lot longer! Cigarettes were ridiculously cheap (which meant I smoked for years longer than I might have – possibly) because the tobacco companies want to get people hooked on nicotine.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Wednesday November 27th 2019 – #Afghanistan Mary Smith, #Nostalgia Antoinette Truglio Martin, #Blogging Jenny in Neverland | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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