- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan Western diplomats, military officials and foreign relief workers completed their last-minute Christmas shopping yesterday on Chicken Street, but for most Afghans the highlight of the Christian calendar was a mystery.
"I don't know anything about Christmas," a shopkeeper named Fawod said with a sigh. "It's for foreigners, but they don't invite me for Christmas, so how can I say to you anything about it?"
But antique-store owner Gula Akhar, 50, said, "Christmas is very interesting for all Afghans now because our country is very happy that America helped us."
Chicken Street, which boasts the best carpets, antiques and jewelry, as well as imported food, received its nickname during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Western hippies, zonked on powerful Afghan hashish, flocked to the dreary lane to scarf cheap chicken.
During the decade-long Soviet occupation, which began in 1979, a Russian armored personnel carrier was parked permanently on the corner. Chubby Soviet housewives and their daughters window-shopped on Chicken Street in search of deep-blue lapis lazuli stones set in silver to add to their jewelry collections.
"During the Taliban time, the Taliban beat me after they came in my shop and saw I'm selling this," another shopkeeper said, pointing to a small papier-mache bird. "All things showing people's faces or animals were forbidden under the Taliban. So I hid them all," he said, waving at hammered-copper wall hangings showing a turbaned man and a demure woman.
"Arabs who came to my shop were only interested in buying knives, small knives, which they put down here," he said, lifting his pants' cuff and holding a knife vertical against his lower leg. "The Taliban stole from my shop three times. They said they want money. They had Kalashnikovs. I was so afraid."
Today, Chicken Street still sells woolen carpets and knickknacks such as bronze Aladdin-style oil lamps, nomad tribal clothing, sinister swords, Soviet medals and an occasional unique treasure such as a tiny, collapsible, hand-cranked record player.
In Mr. Akhar's shop, two Russian-style icons portrayed Mary and Jesus, resting in a glass showcase alongside daggers, a small statue of Buddha and other items.
"The woman is Marion," said Mr. Akhar, who described the icon of Jesus as "a great leader from Iran."
A few shops down, Amin Nullah, 26, said he thought "Christmas is the new year" for foreigners.
Another antique-store owner, named Farhad, said, "On Christmas, the foreigners give gifts and they have a tree because it is the greatest celebration for Christians. Their messenger of God was born this day. His name is Isah," he said, using the Afghan pronunciation of Jesus.
"The foreigners used to buy a lot of things for Christmas on Chicken Street, but now, I don't know why, the foreigners are poor," he said. "But yesterday, an American bought three knives from my shop, very special ones. They were poison knives. I said, '$300,' but the American said, 'Very expensive. $200.'
"So my father said to me, 'Give him for $200 because we have not sold anything in two months.' Since the American bombings started, we have had no business. When you are in your shop, you think what might happen to your family, maybe a bomb will come, so we went to our homes and closed our shops," he said.

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