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Sunday, 3 February, 2002, 15:59 GMT
Shopping therapy in Kabul
chicken street, Kabul
Chicken street: The "Knightsbridge" of Kabul
Marcus George

Leave behind department stores, credit-card payment, sales and gratuitous advertisements.

Add a heavy dose of haggling, arguing and confusion, interspersed by moments of hilarity and bizarreness, and you get a shopping trip in Kabul.

There are no set deals here. Any purchase could be a bargain, if you play it right. But retail catastrophe lies in wait for those who have no idea how much to pay for what.

chicken street, Kabul
The traders have been through hard times
The Knightsbridge of the city is Chicken Street, a stretch of shops dedicated to antiques and carpets, most of which, contrary to what shopkeepers tell you, are as old as the shiny new Japanese cars blocking the city streets.

Amongst the more favoured items are Afghan blunderbusses, century-old Central Asian porcelain and carpets depicting symbols of Afghanistan's two decade old war.

War relics

Silk wall hangings and carpets adorn the shop fronts along the whole length of the street.

"Come on, my friend", "enter this my shop, mister", scream shop keepers adorned in Soviet-style patchwork leather jackets and hand-held satellite telephones.

Until the demise of the Taleban regime, Chicken Street shop owners had experienced increasingly poor returns. Business was drying up alongside the diminishing numbers of aid workers - for the last five years, their bread and butter.

chicken street, Kabul
There are bargains to be had among the carpets
And then September came.

"The few customers we had at the time disappeared within days," said Wali Mohammed an antiques and jewellery dealer.

"All the international aid agencies left after the attacks on America and we were relying on their business at the time. All the shops here were closed because of the bombardments."

Booming business

"This lasted two months and we waited. But thankfully no bombs landed here."

And after the slump came the boom. The hundreds of aid workers, journalists, soon to be followed by foreign business, are all healthy targets for the Chicken Street hawks.

These traders have battled through the hard times. They witnessed the fall of communism, the brutal years of civil conflict which brought war into the heart of the city, and then the iron grip of the Taleban.

guns for sale in chicken street, Kabul
Relics from Afghan history are popular with visitors
But with Darwinian spirit, they have survived and are ready to reap the seeds of profit.

At a single glance several potential customers milled in the streets, letting their eyes lead them.

ISAF soldiers looked over the action of 150-year-old British rifles and journalists pored over dozens of carpets.

The shopkeepers watched them closely seeing what they were interested in, waiting to begin the eternal Afghan game.

Either way, the soldiers and hacks will go home with full bags and empty wallets.

"It's priceless, unique. There is nothing like it," said one shop keeper as I sat looking at an engraved dagger. "It is pure silver, one of its kind".

Admittedly, it was beautiful. Out of interest I asked the price.

"For you, just $1,000," he said.

I left smiling to myself. A voice called after me. "Okay, for you $950, no problem, good price no?"

See also:

08 Jan 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghans face starvation
01 Feb 02 | South Asia
Kabul's unwanted children
31 Jan 02 | Business
Chaos in Kabul amid currency rumours
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