Cables From Kabul - Recuerdos De Kabul
Before the Taliban lopped off the traders' hands, and the war blew away half the shopfronts, Chicken Street was where the hippie trailers flocked to stock up on Afghan tack. We spent exactly 15 minutes there.
Internationals in Kabul adhere to a security system. Level one means it's OK to leave your compound. Level two means you're not even allowed to peek through the door and level three is you holed up at your local consulate waiting for the soonest flight out. Right now we're on level two. But we have a job to do.
So myself and Henry have adopted this thing called the '15 minute rule'. If we go out in a public space we never stay there longer than 15 minutes. We've also started to dress like locals. (We got our outfits on Chicken Street.) We have beards too. Mine's ginger. If anyone asks, I was conceived on pilgrimage.
Yesterday we went to Chicken Street, Kabul's famous, but nowadays pretty disappointing, market. When your mother and father went backpacking, they didn't spend the whole time hooking up with Scandinavians or getting stick and poke tattoos. Your mother and father would drift through Kabul, drinking opium tea and buying ethnic clothes on this very street.
Apparently it was a bit of a wild scene. Kabul was considered the Paris of Central Asia and Chicken Street was its Left Bank.
But recent history hasn’t been kind to Chicken Street. Suleman sold us our outfits. He also told us a couple of stories about the end of the market. The Russians scared off the hippies and, when they left, the civil war that followed shaved a whole end off the block with rocket fire. The Taliban then came along and imprisoned all the females who worked on the street, claiming they were prostitutes. And then any of the traders who they reckoned weren’t devout enough, had their hands removed. They hung the hands from the branches of trees in a decorative, fleshy warning.
The Americans haven’t done anything to fuck up Chicken Street yet, but, if the latest government-issued pull-out date is anything to set your watch by, they still have till 2014.
Fifteen minutes later we left Chicken Street. We took with us some Mujahideen postcards, shalwar kameez, a few head scarves and a simple contentment at having avoided being bundled into the back of a van by men who can only write using cut-out letters.
WORDS: CONOR CREIGHTON
PHOTOS: HENRY LANGSTON
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