Before the Taliban lopped off the traders' hands and the war blew away half the shopfronts, Chicken Street was where the hippies 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 next flight home. Right now we're at level two. But we have a job to do.
So Henry and I have adopted this thing we like to call 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 here, 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. The guy who sold us our outfits 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. Then the Taliban came along and claimed all the women who worked on the street were prostitutes and threw them in jail. Also, any of the traders who they thought weren’t devout enough had their hands removed. They hung the hands from the branches of trees as 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.
WATCH: Cables from Kabul.