Protected: Black market blues

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Bush bazaar and cheeses

A while back we went to Bush Bazaar. Alert readers may recall Bush Bazaar: it is the black market here in Kabul, where you can buy pretty much anything, from pumps for the male anatomy, to laser sights for guns, to Quaker oats, bacon and cheese. Alerter readers may recall my prescriptions for rendering edible the breakfast cereals one can purchase at Bush Bazaar (Bath time and sugary oats). Alertest readers will know that alertest is not the superlative form of the word.

On this last trip to Bush Bazaar I bought what I thought was large pieces of cheese. Cheese is not readily available in Afghanistan, and where it is, it costs a great deal, so to find six smallish rounds of cheese in not-disgusting condition for only $4 a packet was quite an exciting experience.

I got home and proudly displayed my finds to Julie, only to be informed in tart tones shortly thereafter that what I thought was blocks of cheese was in fact slices of cheese separated by paper, melted together and refrozen. The fats in the cheese had turned the paper soft, but not so soft that you could eat it: a mouthful tasted pretty much like cheesy paper. Perplexed I stuck some in the freezer, wondering if it would separate more readily when frozen. There it lurked for several weeks; yesterday I got it out.

It would not separate. The paper and the cheese remained intimately linked. I narrowly avoided severing an artery when trying to insert a knife in between the frozen slices, I broke the cheese-paper block into chunks trying, I then struck on the idea of melting the cheese fondue-style, and lifting the paper out. (All this, I should note, as I prepared tortillas for dinner: the cheese was to go on top when all was done). (You can see where this story is heading).

I put the cheese in a water bath and attempted to heat it. It would not melt. It kind of softened, then re-congealed, sort of like a dairy epoxy resin. I tried fishing out the paper; it brought the cheese with it. I tried scraping off the softened cheese; the paper tore. I tried eating it: cheese paper.

I gave up and tipped the lot in the bin. Who needs cheese on a tortilla? Stupid idea.

Cheesey paper snacks. Do not try this at home. Or at work. Or anywhere.

Shoes for a small boy

150Afs vs !30 Dirhams: shoes as economic indicators.

We are in Dubai. This is a place that makes me feel uneasy. There is just too much money, and everywhere it is apparent that people believe that money, enough money, can solve every problem, mend every sorrow, enliven every heart. They makes islands in the sea in the shape of palm trees, they create cities out of the sand of the desert, they live absolutely contrary to the conditions and limits imposed by their environment. It is a place that defies itself.

We leave tomorrow for a different place, but while we are here it suddenly became obvious to Julie and I that our kids look somewhat like urchins. Well, we do most of our clothes shopping at the Bush Bazaar in Kabul. It is affordable, certainly. And I take pleasure in recycling for our use what others have discarded. Right now, the shirt I am wearing came from a Kabul second hand clothes bazaar, as do the excellent trousers.

But maybe kids clothes just don’t recycle so well. Elijah has been stamping around in second-hand Bush Bazaar sneakers that I got him several months ago. He was so touchingly delighted with them, even though they were stained, torn, several sizes too big (we had to stuff them with felt, and even then he had to wear two pairs of socks every time) and had the name “Cal G” written on the sides. But those shoes are now just completely worn out. So today at Festival Mall, we spent roughly 15 times as much on a new pair of sneakers for him. The irony is that they were probably made in the same factory in China. Though admittedly the Bush Bazaar ones have already travelled quite some distance on some other kids’ feet.

I doubt you can find anything second hand in Dubai.