Part of my job in Kunduz was to assess the market: go into the city and find out if there are new, cheaper suppliers, that can provide us with good quality items and services. Then I’ll meet them, talk with them and sometimes negotiate. It is a great way to discover Afghan culture.
The commercial part of the city is very well organized: one street for one type of product., that is to say, all carpet sellers are in the same street, all wood sellers are together in the next street. Food suppliers are gathered in the same place called Haikiri market.
I went to ask for a quotation in an electronics shop and received a very warm welcome. I had to go inside and sit down (as a foreign woman, it is almost mandatory not to upset them). When the man, who seemed to be the owner, was talking with my colleague and a second man comfortably sat behind his desk, completing the quotation form, a young boy of not more than 10 years old was dealing with customers.
This kind of situation, where very young children work for their relatives, exists everywhere in the city. Once it was a welder, another time they manage the little corner bakery, or else they pull a big heavy trolley full of fresh fruits to sell. These same kids will once in a while take a short break, just enough time to take a bite of cucumber with a pinch of salt as lunch. When we stopped in front of a shop to ask some questions, most of the time, boys no older than 15 years old were helping us.
A bit further on, we stop at a fuel station to collect some samples of gas and diesel for quality control. Fuel consumption is so important in MSF projects that it is essential to ensure the good quality of fuel. Whereas I was expecting to receive a small pot (like for a urine sample), I saw the owner taking a bottle of water from his stock, drink it all, and fill it with fuel from the pump. For the second sample, we receive it in a cooking oil bottle, the last of which was probably used a few hours before during lunch preparations!
Back in the car, I have time to watch the street and street shops. Most of them are the same as the ones seen in other countries, mainly selling fruits and vegetables. The carrot seller is the one who surprised me the most. Surprised? Well yes, because the carrot seller provides peeled carrots! Big step towards a marketing strategy to beat its competitor; the seller of unpeeled carrots!
On the way back to the hospital, after what I thought was a great, full and instructive afternoon, I learned one last thing: how to bring bricks from the street to the first floor terrace. Naturally, my first answer would be via the stairs or elevator (even if I don t think there are any of these in small buildings such as these). However, Afghans developed a local, not very safe, but very efficient way to do this: Throwing the bricks. The principle is really simple: Two people, one downstairs who throws the bricks, and one upstairs who catches them with fluidity, consistency and ease. Fascinating!
During walks in the heart of the city, which is relatively clean thanks to dozens of large purple bins stationed at every street corner, I had a glimpse into the daily lives of the Afghan people. I was especially happy to see the butchers prepare meat for sale. I will not go into details at the risk of the most carnivorous of you becoming vegetarian for life. I, myself, am more happy with a good pasta dish, devoid of cattle, sheep or any other animal!
I also have come to understand the importance of adaptability. We all know the coloured pens we use at school. Here, these items are probably too expensive for some people, so they created a home-made two colour pen which is one blue pen and one red pen attached together with a good piece of tape. Good to know!