Kandahar vegetable market

Haji Ajmal Shamali 
Afghanistan Presidential Campaign
This is a short story from Keith E. Jones who is the campaigns Press Secretary
Vegetable shopping in Kandahar

I have a short story to tell, from when I was in Kandahar in the winter of 2007. This was before I knew Ajmal. But I thought some of you might be wondering about me, an American acting as the campaign press secretary. This tale might help you to know me just a little better.

My first experiences with the people of Afghanistan came when I was living in Kandahar and went out exploring the City. I was told by everyone that it was dangerous for me to go out in the City of Kandahar. I could be kidnapped or worse. I believed them, but life should be lived fully. Hiding in a compound all day and all night just isn’t my style.
My friend Raziq tried his best to find some traditional styled clothing to fit me. You can see from the photo I was just a bit larger than the clothing he eventually brought to me. After donning my disguise, I rode with Raziq and another friend from Kandahar Air Base into the City of Kandahar in an old Toyota Corolla.

Raziq was concerned about roadside bombs, so I had my hat pulled low across my face and a gray and white shawl wrapped high around my neck. I had grown a slight graying beard. From a distance, while I was seated in the Toyota I might appear to be an Afghan.

While in town we had lunch at an excellent restaurant where I enjoyed the best cucumbers and yogurt I have ever eaten. Then we visited the gold sellers street where this photo was taken.
Later we stopped at a vegetable market, because I was in town to buy some large quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables. I left Raziq and his friends talking and I roamed alone through the mounds and piles of carrots and potatoes and other fresh vegetables.

My attention was attracted by a loud cracking sound, much like fire crackers or small explosions. But the sound was not that of a rifle or a bomb. I was curious and walked toward the main street. Standing on the edge of the curb I leaned out looking to my left to see what all the commotion was about. I should have been more aware of my surroundings. It was only later that I realized that while I was walking toward the edge of the road all the other people in the market were slowly moving back away from the road.

Suddenly a convoy of ISAF vehicles appeared from around a bend in the road. The noise was a warning klaxon on the lead vehicle. All the people of Kandahar recognized this cracking sound as the warning that a military convoy was coming through. The armored vehicles were moving way too fast for the narrow road conditions. A poor carrot farmer whose overloaded cart laden with carrots and pulled by an ancient graying donkey fell into a pothole on the side of the road. The cart overturned as the convoy roared by.

I stared at the soldiers as they sped past me. The last vehicle in the convoy was driven by a particularly crazed individual. He saw me standing alone by the curb. So he veered sharply toward me so that the right side wheels of his armored vehicle ran through a big puddle of very brown muddy water. The water shot out from beneath the tires. I was drenched from the waist down in a disgusting brown muck.

The old man standing across on the other corner with the overturned cart, looked near to crying. Anger and frustration were lined in his sun withered face. I walked over and gave him some help to push the cart upright. Then standing in ankle deep water I helped to throw the 50 kilo bags of carrots back into the van.
By the time we were finished loading his cart, I was truly filthy. I took a couple loose carrots and fed them to his calm and sturdy donkey. He said, “salaam aliakum” and I repeated the words back to him.

Returning to the back corner of the market where my friends were waiting I was greeted by some strange looks. I had left them wearing spotlessly clean, new clothing. I returned covered in mud that had turned the lower half of my legs and shoes a dark beige color. My hands were dirty brown. I even had mud in my hair.

I just looked back at them and said, “my friends I now know what that strange noise means.” Thankfully we had finished all we wanted to accomplish that day, so we climbed into the beat up Toyota and headed out of town. That’s when I noticed a gathering of nomadic people, off in a distant field. A wedding celebration was just beginning.

“ Raziq,” I said, turning to my friend who was sitting in the back seat fingering his beads, saying a silent prayer of thanks that we had made it out of town safely. “Raziq. do you think the bride and groom would mind if an American invited himself to their wedding party?” But that wedding party is a tale for another day. I hope you enjoyed my tale about shopping for vegetables in Kandahar.

Keith E. Jones
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