Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sultan Hamidi

Across from the Friday Mosque stands a glorious junk-shop full of relics and nonsense, the purview of a charismatic performer and true vaudevillian. In the course of an hour in his store, he served our group tea, strummed every stringed instrument among his wares, and told stories of his two wives and 18 children - including a son who was shot in the mosque and a daughter killed by a missile-strike.

In Farouk, Sultan Hamidi found a kindred spirit. Our official group negotiator soon claimed Afreen as his zan (wife) and swore his father's name was also Sultan, striking his most outrageous bargaining stance and proving himself an equal showman. Hamidi clearly delighted in the sparring, and so loud debate soon filled the shop.

Ameel fiddled with a tabla while Francisco sorted through the rifles to admire a broken pistol inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Alyza searched the painted glassware for a carafe labeled in Arabic, rather than English, characters. Afreen and I debated the value of antique copper plates engraved (strangely enough) with women's faces, and soon we all accepted Sultan Hamidi's invitation to visit the glassblowing workshop down the street.

Pedestrians hurried past the workshop with hardly a glance at the furnace or the hunchbacked man working molten vases, but we visitors with cameras soon drew a curious crowd. Herat's streets were secure, but the population clearly lacks Kabul's bored familiarity with foreigners - it usually took mere minutes for our group to acquire an entourage after setting out on foot.

Returning to final negotiations, Sultan Hamidi pulled out a karakol and traditional Kandahari jacket, costuming the boys for photos in turn. He solemnly presented Farouk with an additional glass vase as a gift, but made him buy a silk-embroidered cap, tacked onto our pile as a final impulse purchase. We left with several carafe-and-cup sets, a long-handled switchblade, three copper plates, miscellaneous small gifts and the satisfaction of long bargaining successfully concluded. Cracking open a battered copy of the Lonely Planet guide on the table, Sultan Hamidi showed off his photo on page 5 - somehow I suspect he exercised similar charms on the author.

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