Kabul is full of bazaars selling anything from car parts to fruit. Our own neighborhood bazaar sells fruit, plastic shoes, and has a store with overpriced western goods. Most bazaars are fairly similar; a little of this and a little of that. But there is one bazaar that is unique from all the others. . . Bush Bazaar.
The bazaar is located on the other side of town from Karte Seh. I've heard some people say that it is considered one of the seedier areas of the city. But to be honest, I couldn't tell. All I know is that we pass by one of the mosques considered to be more extreme, the Hotel Serena where important people stay on visits to Kabul (which was bombed in December and now resembles of military fortress, but I hear it's worth the security hassle for the pastries in their bakery), and the outdoor public toilets that empty into the river where there is a constant line of men squatting.
What makes Bush Bazaar unique is that it carries a plethora of Western goods at cheap prices. It is named for a certain prominent American figure. Supposedly in the 80's, a similar bazaar stood at the same place called the Brezhnev Bazaar. I wonder if the name will change again in November; Barack Bazaar or McCain Bazaar.
The bazaar is made up of 12 rows of stalls. 6 rows contain food, toiletries, and body building supplements (why? I'm still asking that question). The other 6 rows contain clothes (Afghan and Western), curtains and bedding. The food section is always the most interesting. It feels like a treasure hunt, walking from store to store being surprised to find items like beer or Neutrogena shampoo. Of course, there are some staples products like MRE's, giant cans of green beans , Dr. Pepper, quick grits, and fruit cups. There are also a few golden ticket items that everyone seems to be searching for, like cereal and ramen noodles. The bazaar contains everything from weird (Korean boy scout uniforms) to wonderful (Swiss dark chocolate. . .it's melted now, but in the winter it will be a treat). Usually several stores will carry the same products which allows for good bartering. By the third shop the price usually comes down. And if it doesn't, we walk away and they holler down the row, "Fine, fine, whatever you want to pay." The shopping is quick and a little frantic. Shoppers hire men with wheelbarrows to follow them through the rows and stack up their purchases.
I have been to the bazaar twice. The first time was to look for some Afghan clothes. All the clothes have been cleaned and ironed and hung from wires to the ceilings of stalls. I found three shalwar kameez and one chador and paid around 300 afs (or 6 dollars). Our shopping was cut short when we were told we had to leave for security reasons; the market gets closed often for security checks. The second time was to help some friends shop for an upcoming trip. Joey and I walked away with a flat of Gatorade and our friends had a trunk load of groceries.
Where do these products come from? Good question. The answer is a little complicated because there is no exact answer. Some of the products are left over from military units leaving the country. Some of the products are gleaned from donations to towns that have no use for fruit cups or Lays potato chips. Some fell off the back of some truck somewhere in the world. Some of the products are expired, always check the date! And some are obviously counterfeit from Pakistan, like the Dove Body Cream for "womems." Some are reclaimed from the trash and refilled with another product, only buy products that look clean and have multiples available. As you can see, the avenues to Bush Bazaar are many.
In many ways, the Bush Bazaar is more bizarre than useful. It's more of an experience than a necessity for us. But it is an interesting example of how the Western presence has influenced Kabul. . . Seeing a burqa-clad woman haggling down the price on Heinz Ketchup and chocolate snack-pack pudding is priceless.