Freddie On The Street... In Kabul, Part 3


Written by Robert Foster
24 Wednesday 24th April 2013

Back to Freddie:

I’m not trying to make this weird but I don’t have a photo of grown men holding hands, so I’m using these lads as miniature stand-ins for their adult compatriots. Reason being, Afghanistan is a country where being gay is so taboo, it essentially does not exist as a concept. So male friends frequently hold hands simply as a public show of firm friendship. To foreign eyes, it’s startling, heart-warming and a sad, counter-intuitive reminder of extreme social conservatism all at once.

Social conservatism seemed on the back-foot at Kabul’s Sound Central rock festival however. Despite being organised by the worst kind of wannabe bad-ass cultural colonials, the mostly Afghan crowd sincerely dug the mostly Afghan bands. Some even came to break dance. It was held in the plaza of an old castle, where armed police patrolled the battlements above. “Seriously, guys, have your weird, heretical fun. Just do it in this impenetrable fort, out of sight of sizable chunks of society, who would clamour to land the first stone on you for this malarkey.”

In Kabul, I lived in a regular house, in a regular neighbourhood. We had a regular amount of tumbledown razor wire ringed around our outer wall. Instead of armed guards, we kept mental, overly-affectionate dogs. We also shopped for the same raggedy vegetables from the same wooden hand-carts as our neighbours. However, we probably appreciated the existence of Bush Bazaar more than them. At Bush Bazaar, after a week of local living standards (failing electricity, ice water, dust, dust and more dust), we could head to this sprawling market and fall into sugar/MSG-coma, induced by Yank meat, candy and soda.

Bush Bazaar is eponymously named for President G.W., intellectually challenged architect of Afghanistan’s latest chaos-creep. Almost everything on sale here has “fallen off the back” of a military convoy. So you see towering stacks of Gatorade, boxed macaroni and sugar cereals that you dreamt of as a kid watching Nickelodeon. You can also buy cut-price Gore-Tex clothing, boots and GPS systems. Lastly, you’ll find mountains of protein powder. Just as US grunts love to “get big” during downtime from bothering IEDs, more and more Afghans are oiling up to pursue bodybuilding to its most grotesque and orange extremes.

Car-wash stations like this one on the Baghram road are always busy. Your average Afghan driver is both male and committed to the eye-catching decoration and cleanliness of his car. Note that here, the word ‘car’ is interchangeable with ‘Corolla’, such is their ubiquity. Boys can cite the year of a Corolla model quicker than they can identify other brands. Becoming a diligent car-washer is also a good way for a kid to support his family, that is if his hands can take the freezing and chapping of winter.

Another beloved foreign import is the energy drink. I’m not sure if this brand, Carabao, is an Afghan original but it stands out in a crowded market. The cans are short and stubby, like sugar-charged grenades, and the taste suggests a mixture at least as life-threatening as a bomb in a donkey’s saddlebag (Trivia crow-bar: ABIED – Animal-borne Improvised Explosive Device – for when life needs specifics). The tagline for this brand says it all: “CARABAO SALUTES THE RE-BUILDING SPIRIT OF AFGHANS!”

Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

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