A walk through the main bazaar in Musa Qala offers a study in contrasts. The shabby construction of the mud-walled stalls and the pitted dirt of the sidewalks juxtapose displays with an opulent supply and careful presentation of goods: neatly placed bowls of ancient spices, symmetric racks of colorful textiles, rows of Western drinks, and even some electronics.
Business is alive and well in Musa Qala. The dizzying array of goods for sale whispers about the larger economy, the regional and international distribution and trading networks that allow a vibrant merchant class to thrive in the midst of the common deprivation and squalor of many residents.
The interaction between American Marines and local vendors and passersby offers contrasts of another sort. The Americans are dispersed and alert, with heads on a swivel, scrutinizing every person and vehicle as a potential missile. The Afghan citizens are nonchalant, gliding with lackadaisical grace when absolutely forced to move from shade into the blistering heat. The Americans offer occasional thickly accented, enthusiastic greetings in Pashto. Some of the locals respond in kind, others turn up their noses and ignore them. The Westerners are engaged. With the exception of bursts of Dickensian enthusiasm from begging, pickpocketing children, the Afghans seem apathetic. It’s not hard to fathom why: it’s 115 degrees, after all. And many are jaded by decades of war, Taliban rule, and unfulfilled promises by foreigners.
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