Monday, August 28, 2017

Kabul: Sometimes It's the Little Things... (part 12)

In our final weeks of shopping in Kabul, Eitan and I finally got around to ordering traditional Afghan outfits.  Consisting of a long tunic and baggy pants and affectionately called a man dress, man-jams, and other descriptive names by expats, the Afghan men's suit is similar to that found in other countries.  What sets it apart from some of the others, however, is that it often comes with elaborate embroidery on the chest and sometimes on the sleeves.

Once we made our intentions known at the bazaar, we were directed to a shop specializing in Afghan clothes.  Happy to get us properly attired, the shopkeeper took our measurements.  Then, after negotiating the price, we completed the deal.

"Honestly," he told us, "I have never sold a suit for such a cheap price."

This was a pretty standard claim, so we didn't pat ourselves on the back too hard.

About a week later, we returned to pick up our purchases.

I tried mine on first, and the arms were a good three inches too short.

Noticing my concern, the shopkeeper chimed in with an explanation.

"This is perfect," he told me, "because we roll up the sleeves most of the time."

"See, like this," he continued, as he showed me his own suit.

It was true that he had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows.

"Can you roll them down, please?" I asked.

And sure enough, when he did, his sleeves reached all the way to his wrists.

Eitan's suit had the same problem as mine, and the shopkeeper knew what had to be done.

"I'll redo them," he replied with his head hung low.

I did appreciate his attempt to pull the wool over our eyes, even if his explanation came up, well, a bit short.


In Western slang, a "loose woman" is a woman of loose or relaxed morals, especially regarding sex.  She is promiscuous; a "bad girl."

In Afghanistan, there is a similar concept, and coincidentally, the phrase itself is similar.

"That woman always wears a loose scarf," I heard an Afghan colleague say one day.  The disdain was evident in his voice, and I quickly got the point.

At best, the implication was that this woman was immodest.  The more common understanding, however, is that a "loose-scarf woman" is basically a "loose woman" since a proper woman would never expose her hair to an unrelated male.

Over the course of my two years in Kabul, I would hear this phrase, "loose-scarf woman," several times from both my American and Afghan colleagues.

Perhaps some loose-scarf women are in fact revealing carnal desires, but surely some are guilty of nothing more than rushing out of the house with an insufficient number of pins to hold their scarves firmly in place.


As we were gathered for a so-called carpet lunch one Friday, my colleague Bronty took a bite of fried chicken.

"This is delicious!" he gushed.  "Is that saffron I'm tasting?"

Saffron doesn't taste like anything much to me, but it seems like most people who can identify it describe the taste as delicate.

"I don't think they'd use saffron," I replied.  "The flavor of fried chicken is too bold."

Bronty dismissed my opinion, however, and when our host walked by the next time, he tried again.

"Is there saffron in this chicken?" he asked.

"No," the carpet seller answered, "we only use it for color; it doesn't have any flavor."

Then he hammered the point home.

"We would never use it for fried chicken," he told Bronty, with a case-closed attitude.

We finished eating our chicken - which was served with bread, French fries, dumplings, kebabs, and soft drinks - and then it was time for dessert.

"Amazing!" Bronty exclaimed. "I love almonds!"

"Good grief," I thought to myself, "here we go again."

"I'm pretty sure this is made from pistachios," I answered.

Again, Bronty sought a second opinion from our host, and again, he was proven wrong.

"Right, it's pistachios," he conceded, "and I think I'm also picking up some..."

"Can we give it a rest?" I thought to myself.

"...cardamom," Bronty finished.

As my father is fond of saying, even a blind pig finds an acorn every now and again.


Anonymous said...


Rena said...

Love the "blind pig" comment. I will have to find a way to use that statement in a future conversation. ;) Thanks for the great stories, Chris! =)