If the mission allowed, I didn’t have to come in until noon on Fridays and Sundays. Normally, the Chief’s schedule had him (and therefore me) working all day on Fridays because he was an important man with many obligations, and I stocked his Diet Pepsi. But on Sundays I could usually slip away from my desk for an hour and make good use of my half day off at the bazaar. The bazaar was like a farmer’s market but without fruits and veggies. Instead, there was a stall of beautifully crafted Middle Eastern rugs woven from rich rubies, royal blues and sunrise yellows, laid out along the ground to showcase the intricate patterns and designs of swirls and loops. Some people spent entire paychecks on these works of art, investments, that would bring three times as much back in the States if you found a buyer. Placed on the edges of the market were bootlegged DVDs by the thousands. The latest television series (Dexter, Lost, The Big Bang Theory) were spread across tabletops alongside movies still playing in theaters back in the States. Back home, we saw commercials warning us not to patronize bootleggers because they support terrorists, and then, in the place where the Taliban grew their numbers, we were supplied a limitless supply of bootlegged items. We were also offered a twinkling supply of semi-precious and precious stones: tanzanite, lapis, emerald, amethyst, sapphire, tiger eye, pink spinel, tourmaline, garnet, black diamond, pink diamond, yellow diamond, and on and on. The star-shine lured customers in like hypnotists on a Vegas stage. I spent many an hour gazing, then holding and petting, and finally buying the tiny Easter egg colored beauties. The prices were too affordable and I liked to hold the pretty things in my hands while whispering, “my precious.”
And although I escaped the draw of the artful rugs, and I controlled myself with the gems (mostly), I was addicted to the brightly colored, hand-stitched blankets and tapestries with elephants, dancers, fish and swirls spiraling all over them. I loved the notion that some woman somewhere in Afghanistan (hopefully not Pakistan) was stitching threads together in her home; maybe her daughter, sister, cousin or mother was helping her to make the blankets. I loved the idea of the women working with their hands, their heads bowed in concentration, to create something in such a down-turned economy. I loved the hope that the hand-worked pieces represented. If these women hadn’t given up with all the odds against them, then I couldn’t either. Never mind that they may be under some sort of forced servitude. In my imagination, they were entrepreneurs. I must have purchased at least fifteen or twenty different pieces: bedspreads, bookmarks, pillow covers, table runners, and hanging tapestries. I even sent many back to the States for others to own a safe piece of the Afghan culture.
Today, I have the blankets stored away in the tops of my closets. It is a shame to keep these works of art folded up and tucked away, but on the few occasions that I have taken them down, spreading out their stories over my bed, I’m struck by a sense of such foreignness that I can’t bring myself to use them. Each time I pull them from their plastic covers, the musty mixture of Afghan dirt and unwashed skin along with the smell of Qorma and Naan (fried onions with meat and homemade Afghan bread) rises from the blankets and brings back feelings I’m not able to process yet. Their beauty is still there, but they don’t belong here at home with me. They don’t mesh with the rest of my life now. In the end, I feel like I’ve selfishly transplanted these pieces, and now they are dying under my care.