The time has come for me to have some transportation in this town. I don’t want to be dependent upon taxis, drivers, or friends to get around Afghanistan
So – its time to buy a motorcycle.
The decision made – time to think about logistics. How does a blonde woman purchase a motorcycle in a country where women don’t ride bikes?
You ask two Afghan flatmates to pave the way. Parweez and Hamid went down to the shop and talked with the guy. I already had made the decision that were looking at a Chinese bike, a small 150, called Desert Eagle. So they were there to haggle the price and set the story that the bike was for Hamid and his ‘boss’ was coming down to pay for it.
Queue the blond infidel.
I walk in and they’ve already secured the price of $700. Brand new Chinese bike – not exactly high quality, but perfect for learning the streets of Kabul on. Once we hand over the money then they put some fuel in the tank, check that everything is working. Immediately fuel starts leaking out of the bottom of the bike. No worries they just didn’t have the fuel line connected to the engine. The battery was installed. Twice. Then a variety of tools came out to tighten down lugnuts and connections or simply bang a few things into place.
I step back into the dark shop to sign some papers and get the registration type stuff to show ownership, etc. I have my first experience with using my thumbprint as my signature on official papers. The owner is starting to suspect that the bike might be for me rather than Hamid, but he plays along since he’s making a sale.
Everything finished, another guy takes it for a quick spin to make sure everything is working. Ironically, the only thing NOT removed is the plastic coverings over the headlights, seat, and handlebars. This is a real Afghan thing. The plastic stays on to show its new. Even the bubblewrap around one turn signal would typically stay. I find it safer to have my headlights and turn signals fully exposed, so I removed it all. Although as I do, I start to wonder how much of the plastic is also to keep things held together?
This bike for example, is Chinese made, brand new for $700. Working backwards that means that if the shopkeeper has a 100% markup, he bought it from the importer for about $350-400. The importer has the same mark-up, so he got it from the factory for $150-200. Which means the factory made it for around $100? THAT is high quality Chinese craftsmanship at its best.
Hamid is driving it back to complete the ruse, but before we leave, we must give the customary “chirany “ which is a very bizarre Afghan concept. Essentially, because you are well off enough to buy something new, it is expected that you ‘share’ that wealth usually with candy, sweets, or a small payment of cash. So, as I was leaving, it was explained that I had to give a ‘gift’ to a few members of staff there. It is also expected that when I arrive home that I bring candy for the two guardsmen. So we have to make a stop at the market to buy several bags of candy. Sure enough, we pull up with a new bike and the first words out of the guards mouth is “where is my chirany?” I laugh as I toss him a couple bags of mini Mars bars.
I sit on my bike with a glass of whiskey and toast the boys – grateful for their help, bargaining skills, and guidance. Tomorrow we ride!