May 31, 2011, 3:46 p.m.
This is an excerpt from a letter I wrote during my deployment at Bagram Airfield in 2009.
The Bazaar is an open-air market we have on base every other Friday. The locals bring their hand made goods in and sell them to the “rich” Americans. It’s like a Flea Market…but in Afghanistan. I have to say though, there are some beautiful things at the Bazaar. Pashmina scarves, hand carved weapons and wooden figures, marble dish ware, clothing, and other things I just can’t live without. I love going to the Bazaar because it is my retail therapy. I started going into shopping withdrawal after my first week here…no Wal-Mart, no Target, no shopping mall! What’s a girl to do? Then the answer came to me…Go to the Bazaar!!
Another cool thing about the Bazaar is the bargaining. The vendor tells you how much an item is and you respond with a counter offer. If you don’t have a counter offer, the vendor will think you are arrogant…a rich American that can throw money around. It’s also kind of funny to watch them interact with women on a professional level. They ‘own’ their women…their women are not educated and they don’t have their own money. And the women are definitely not allowed to speak to a man to whom they are not married or related…and never in a business capacity. So, when I tell them no and counter offer their sale price, they get a little angry. One guy even got aggressive and got in my face, raised his voice, and grabbed my hand. Idiot. Well, I raised my voice right back and jerked my hand away. I gave him a gentle reminder that you don’t touch Americans, especially American women. Needless to say, he didn’t make the sale. The other cool thing was the other Americans that saw this transaction promptly came to support. No words or actions were exchanged, but it caught the eye of my ‘brothers and sisters’ standing by, and they stood there and gave him the evil eye. But, this guy was the exception. Typically, they are willing to do anything to make the sale. They can be VERY friendly and even funny. For some, it’s their first time to speak to a woman on a professional level, and this is the only place this happens (it doesn’t happen in their villages). Some won’t speak to women at all. Little do they know how much money they are missing out on!
I can’t help but think how crazy it is for them to see us (the American women) in shorts and T-shirts. Grant it, the shorts and t-shirts are our PT gear…VERY conservative and modest. Their women still wear head coverings and are physically reprimanded if they show anything above their ankles and wrists…and even that’s pushing it. A lot of the women, when they are allowed to go out in “public” must wear the Abaya. This is a head to toe sheet (essentially) with a little mesh area where their eyes are so they can see…sort of. Imagine looking through the fabric ‘tulle’…it’s thicker and more course than a bridal veil…all the time. A friend of mine brought up a good point: They kind of look like the ghosts from Scooby Doo…remember that? It’s kind of funny, but it’s a lot sad.
Word of the Day: Tashakoor. Translation: Thank you! We are encouraged to used as many Afghani (Pashto or Farsi) words and phrases with the locals as we can. They are so appreciative. Just one small way we may be able to win them over and make allies.