Nut Vendor: Smugglers' Bazaar
Where does that special gift donated to the G.I. serving in Afghanistan go? That pound of coffee purchased through some "Support Our Troops" drive, or the handwritten note expressing sentiment from back home? Not to mention those MRE's and other materiel sent through NATO convoys?
There's a fair chance that it never makes it to the battlefield but ends up at the Smugglers' Bazaar on the edge of Peshawar.
Over previous visits I felt that the Smugglers' Bazaar didn't live up to its name. Even if its merchandise came through routes dodging duty and tax, more junk than exotic goods still flowed through its stalls. My first time visiting was in the early '90s, back when low-quality goods manufactured in the Soviet Union did brisk trade. My last visit in the early '00s saw kitsch from the USSR supplanted with low-quality goods from China.
Looted Junk Food
It wasn't until we got to the very edge of the Smugglers' Bazaar, at the checkpoint just the other side from the Tribal Agencies buffering Afghanistan, that the merchandise acquired a more illicit aura. That's where goods looted from NATO shipments were on offer.
Military equipment was plentiful: handcuffs, canteens, camouflage-spotted slickers, and binoculars. I could have been convinced those items had come straight from manufacture in China if it weren't for the adjacent stalls selling food. Most of what was sold was familiar American junk food:
Coffee Intended for Troops
Among other goodies, I bought a package of coffee--a "Special Blend to Honor our Troops". Taped to its back was a note, handwritten in felt-tipped pen:
GOD BLESS YOU ALL! WE APPRECIATE YOUR SACRIFICE.
Another bargain on offer was the My Kind of Meal® (UPC 16816-59990) accessory pack. These were pre-packaged pouches made up of the type of snacks that might line an aisle leading up to a U.S. supermarket checkout counter: Sunflower seeds. Granola bars. Bagel chips. Banana chips. Chewing gum. Mints. All assembled together in one heat-sealed plastic bag at only 60 rupees.
The My Kind of Meal® pouch I picked up additionally included a sachet of Maxwell House® instant coffee and a single-serving box of Frosted Flakes® with Tony the Tiger™ on its front. I didn't know what to do with the other enclosed item, an envelope containing an MRE (MEAL, READY-TO-EAT) HEATER (US 06421 8970-01-321-9153). This appears to be some sort of chemical cocktail that will combust to cook up a My Kind of Meal® when stationed far from the mess hall. The envelope has scary warnings printed on it that make me wonder how anything it heats up could remain fit for human consumption:
Cannisters of US
Irina and I are now off to Christmas dinner. It may not be traditional, but thankfully, it won't be another MRE. We're going for a meal of kebabs and pulau at local restaurant chain Shiraz.
A merry Christmas to the troops and to the smugglers alike!