A wise person once asked, "is it worth it to get your ass shot at to buy carpets in Kabul?"
This is the wrong question. How in the world can you come to Kabul and not buy carpets?
Indeed, everyone knows getting your ass shot at in pursuit of carpets in Kabul is completely legit. But taking a few precautions to reduce the risks somewhat might be advisable.
Like bringing a driver and armed guard with you.
True, having an edgy, hungry, Afghan armed with a Kalashnikov guarding the door of your carpet dealer diminishes the quality of the casual chit chat and increases the general level of tension in the shop. Ramadan complicates things, since you can't have tea and snacks and everyone is crabbier than usual.
Even so, negotiations still take place. Foreigners still get ripped off. There's no point in waiting until things calm down.
'Cause the place is a basket case and "calm" is not something that's likely to appear anytime soon.
Buildings are low and mud colored. A thick layer of dust sucks out what little color the broken trees and bushes lend to the city. Any buiding of any importance, from an office to a health clinic to an Embassy to a goverment building is surrounded by blast walls and concertina wire, and heavily guarded. All are unmarked, to reduce the probability of becoming a target.
Kabul, and Afghanistan, is a tragedy. Things are getting worse, not better but this is not not news to Afghans.
The situation in the regions has been bad for months, and it's only since the suicide bombers started hitting Kabul did anyone outside of Afghanistan start paying much attention. People are edgy, dour and pessimistic about the future. Suicide bombers in Kabul are new; their randomness disrupts the carefully constructed wall of willful ignorance and intentional focus on other activities that makes it possible for foreigners and locals alike to function.
Predictably, the Taliban is gaining ground in some areas. People are sick of the lack of security and the fact that five years after the fall of the Taliban (still widely hailed) and something like 70 billion dollars spent, downtown Kabul doesn't have electricity most of the time and schools operate out of tents. And bicycles are being remotely detonated as buses of police rumble by.
Kabul is probably the most fucked-up place I've ever been. True, I was only here for a few days and was strictly limited to traveling between my office and UN-security approved guesthouse. But the work I was doing exposed me to the views of many Kabulis on a wide variety of current political issues. It was fascinating and so very depressing.
I did my part to contribute to the local economy -- eight hastily purchased prayer rugs and bags. They are gorgeous -- shiny and reptilian, just the way I like them.
What did The Producer say when I got them home?
"Why didn't you buy more?"