Kabul Diary by Mike Petterson
21 May 2010
Friday is holiday time for Kabulis. It’s a time for the mosque, meditation and prayer and/or family, friends and relaxation. The mullahs cry out from the many mosque‐speakers around the town sermonising all who will listen. People mull around the many bustling markets shopping for life’s essentials or luxuries as budgets allow. I passed a meat market where 7 cow’s heads were sitting in a detached manner on one stall, hosting flies like a Damien Hurst creation, whilst next door’s stall, seemingly‐ appropriately hosted a dozen pairs of cow’s hooves.
We drove to a hill overlooking the town. Kabul contains many hills and rocky outcrops – like a dozen of Edinburgh’s Arthurs Seat with the distant 7000m Hindu Kush and the city sprawled out on the mountain plain, spilling upwards onto a number of peaks. The hill I was on (Muslim Hill) has a flat table‐top mount with a marbled Kings palace. The second I left the car I was surrounded by youngsters shouting ‘one dollar’, ‘seven dollars’ ‘fifty Afghanis’ (local currency) and smiles from ear to ear. One young girl, aged 7, was named ‘Parwani’ or butterfly which seemed appropriate on a hill full of kite flyers. As many will now know, after the famous book and movie, Kabul is famous for kite flying and Friday is kite day. I was too early to see the competitive kite flyers who glue glass to the string of their kites and attempt to cut competitors’ strings: the winner holds the last flying kite. The kites are well designed and fly incredibly high on even a slight breeze.
Some horsemen from Herat were riding around training for bukhazi – a polo game that uses the corpse of a goat or cow instead of a polo ball and is quite wild and macho.
A cricket game was in full swing with what looked like sledges for wickets, a beaten up, out‐of‐shape soft ball and an improvised piece of wood for a bat. Nevertheless there was no doubting the enthusiasm of the many players under the beating midday sun – no tea breaks and soft cold drinks for these guys. Afghanistan now play cricket at the highest levels and are hoping to become a Test playing team – and good for them!
What is striking about Friday’s is the lack of traffic. Other days take 30 minutes to travel a couple of kilometres but on Fridays the road is yours. Non‐Friday days consist of bumper to bumper traffic travelling at snail’s pace with saloon cars, pick‐ups, 4×4’s, military vehicles, lorries, and horse‐drawn traffic all competing for space and movement. But on Friday’s there is time to travel.
We headed to the tailors’ bazaar. This comprises a number of stalls or people crouching on the ground occupying whatever space they are allowed, offering a complete range of services relating to tailoring, shoe repairs, leather work and the like. Unlike the modern West there remains a vibrant market for repairing things – no throw‐away and buy the next model society here. People will have so many patches on shoes it can be hard to see the original shoe‐style. Remarkably the skills exist in the people for repairs in a way they have all but died out in much of Europe. One of my travel bags was developing an irritating habit of zip malfunctioning rendering the item pretty useless. In the UK, I would have resigned myself to losing the bag knowing that it was probably cheaper to buy a new one than get the item fixed, even if I could find someone prepared to do the job. Not so here. A few words with the helpful elder tailor in the bazaar and I was directed to a 17 year old boy (or young man) from Panjshir who was haunched in the shade, armed with an impressive mechanical Chinese made mechanical sewing machine, tailors scissors, a range of zips and zippers, thick, nail‐like darning needles and an array of other items. More importantly perhaps he possessed the knowledge and needed the business.
I bought a fruit juice from his 13 year old brother who was selling soft drinks next to his elder sibling. The young tailor looked at the job, decided I needed a new zip, told me it would cost $4 and set to work. I was transfixed, fascinated for about an hour, watching this young man at work. He skilfully remove the zip from my laptop rucksack‐style bag (and what an awkward shaped bag for the zip‐wizard!), searched carefully for an appropriate quality new zip and pair of zippers, then proceed to carefully install these within my bag, first by hand, and then with his mechanically‐powered (via muscle turning a wheel) sewing machine. It was a marvel to behold! The two boys went to school (they said) for up to 5 hours a day, but I wondered how many days this actually occurred and how much of their schooling was interrupted by the necessity of these kids to help the family make ends meet. The level of skill and street‐wise‐ness the brothers displayed suggested to me they would spend more time in the bazaar than studying. Above them was a building that had been gutted by a Taliban bomb 5 months previously – luckily only one person died (it could have been a score or more).
The juxtaposition of street kids having to make a living and terrorists indiscriminately killing without a conscience sent a tingle of chilling reality down my spine.