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David Fleishhacker, an I-House resident in 1961-62, is the author of Lessons from Afghanistan, available at amazon.com and local independent book stores.

 

 

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Time Travel - Back to "Chicken Street"

By David Fleishhacker

It wasn't called Chicken Street forty years ago, when I was last there. Then, I was a Peace Corps volunteer living above a block of stores in an apartment built only a year or so earlier in Share Nau (New City). Now, I was going back to see what had happened to Kabul, and to Afghanistan, after twenty years of progress and twenty years of civil war.

It was our first day in Kabul, July 28. Our group of ten had just flown in from Dubai, tired and jet-lagged but ready to begin exploring. Our hostess, Nilufar, suggested that we start by visiting Chicken Street, the main shopping district for the tiny handful of tourists and larger contingent of foreign aid workers in Kabul.

It was a short drive through streets consisting entirely of typical high-walled compounds. I didn't recognize anything. I wasn't even sure this part of the city had existed when I lived there.

Chicken Street, 2002. David Fleishhacker lived above the bazaar in this building 40 years ago.

And then we stopped in a crowded bazaar to exchange dollars for fistfuls of Afghanis, and I looked across the intersection. There was my apartment. Much the worse for wear, with new, concrete shops all around it selling rugs and jewelry and antiques instead of the meat, groceries, and shoes which used to make up the trade in that part of town, but unmistakably my old apartment. I had lived on "Chicken Street" for two years and never knew it.

Then I remembered. When we wanted chicken for dinner, our servant would walk down the block, buy a live chicken, summon a mullah to say appropriate prayers while the bird's throat was cut, and then bring it home to gut, pluck, and prepare. Now that I thought of it, perhaps that wasn't just the place where we happened to buy chickens; probably everybody in Share Nau bought their chickens there, and so, years later, even though no chickens were in sight, it was called Chicken Street.

It was a time-warp experience. It was as if I had once lived in London when there was a fleet at Fleet Street, or in New York when there was a wall on Wall Street, and here I was in a different century and those names belonged to a long-dead past. Unlike the people living there today, I remembered Chicken Street when chickens were present but the street was unnamed because that presence was unremarkable.

I had another time-warp experience in Kabul. Our group was composed of ten Americans of all ages and background: a lovely young Berkeley undergraduate, several women from the Midwest engaged in advocacy for banning of mines, a Belgian-born photographer, the husband of a successful TV personality, and three Afghan women, two of whom left Kabul as children and were seeing their own country for the first time as adults.

This group, diverse in backgrounds and politics, toured together, traveled together, shopped together, and, most important of all, ate meals together. Over the heaping plates of pilau, nan, watermelon, and tea, we shared our feelings about what we had seen and what it all might mean. We discussed American intervention in Afghanistan and the prospects for peace there. It was, in many ways, like a typical I- House meal, diverse people living in close proximity and breaking bread together and, in that way, each learning not only about the world around them but about each other and, most important, about themselves.


 

 


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