Afghanistan actually owes its existence, as a national entity, on trade. It lies astride the famous “Silk Road” that ran from China to Europe, ending at the stone bridge, or “steinbrucke” in modern-day Regensburg, Germany. Odd fun fact: our family used to live just north of Regensburg, and would visit there often. If you go to the Steinbrucke today, there are still Persian traders selling dried fruit, spices and carpets on the north end of the bridge. As well as Europe’s oldest sweet shop and sausage factory.
Even though the silk road is no longer the key thing holding East and West, or modern civilization together, the bazaars of Afghanistan are still very much alive and well. Some cities, like Herat, have sections of the city that are dedicated to a single commodity. If you want a tarp, you go to the tarp market. Carpets are all sold in the same place, as are antiquities as are gold and fruit.
Places like Kabul, though, are much more diverse. There are several traditional bazaars, some of which are diverse, others are single commodity bazaars. I’ve had occasion to visit as many of them as I can manage. Some of them are rather unique. There are fighting partridge sellers in certain parts of town. I’ve several times visited the arms bazaar, which exists surprisingly near the very center of town, despite its shady nature. I’ve been to the animal bazaar during Eid, and watched sacrificial animals being bought and sold.
There are also fixed price stores, that are very western. There are several shopping centers in various parts of town. And of course, there is Chicken Street, which is one of the most famous shopping areas in Afghanistan.
In 2010, we became aware of a new shopping concept in Kabul.
Whereas traditional Afghan shops were small, occupied one storefront and sold goods in small amounts, these new stores were notable in that they had high metal roofs bridging several storefronts, and extended into the center courtyard which is normally not used in traditional Afghan shopping blocks.
These stores also offered a large variety of goods, sold in bulk, kind of like an Afghan “Sam’s Club”.
When we visited these shops, it became obvious where the name “hangar” came from. Evidently someone had visited the ruins of former Soviet military bases and liberated the roofs of abandoned aircraft hangars and maintenance shops and transplanted them to these shopping areas.
From 2010 to present, we had the opportunity to watch these proliferate all over Kabul, and then to move out to the hinterlands. It’s fun to watch cultural change happen. It makes one feel rather like they are in the mix of things.