The smuggler’s bazaar! Just hearing the name alone was enough to get the adrenaline pumping through my body! Known by locals as the Karkhano market along the Kyber Roadway- just one or two kilometers from the Afghanistan border crossing. In order to blend in with the locals, I decided to take absolutely nothing with me and just put a few rupees in my sock for the bus fare. As I was on my way to this mysterious place, I spoke to quite a few people and one man called me over and said “don’t go there, these are the tribal areas, they are lawless and once they find out you are a not from around here they will kidnap you and no one will ever find you. Get off this bus and go back. You are dressed like a Pashto but once you speak they will know- don’t open your mouth there,” he said. I thought about his advice for a bit and decided to keep going anyway, adrenaline got the best of me once again! “As long as I keep my trap shut I should be okay,” I thought to myself. After soaking up the atmosphere for a few hours at the market that smuggles drugs, guns and stolen items intercepted from the US military to and from Afghanistan I decided it would probably be in my best interest to go back. Everyone in the area was armed with AK-47’s under their shalwar keemez (traditional clothing) which did not make me feel any more comfortable.
I called one of the guys I met on the bus and he ended up showing me around all day and even took me to his town, a few kilometers outside of Peshawar. The town, which is governed in a completely autonomous manner independent of the Pakistani government, is headed by his uncle, who took over after his grandfather and great grandfather. He escorted me to the building where everyone gathers for meetings and decision making. I was greeted by many of his neighbors and family and we all had tea together. At one point an older man came over to me with a very stern look on his face, “I have many things to tell you!” he said as his eyes pierced right through me. “First of all, you must know we are not terrorists! The world does not understand Islam! Do we seem like terrorists to you?” he asked. The elder man said he is working to educate people about Islam and gave me a website address where he is trying to share information on Islam.
I also enjoyed talking to an Afghani refugee who came to Pakistan during the war with the Soviets. He said he can’t ever go back to Afghanistan because there is too much violence and danger. He is a very nice guy with a good sense of humor and had some good talks over tea and a plate of fish- awesome experience!
Korean Skills Come in Handy
Anneong ha sey yo! The following day I decided to leave Peshawar and the day my Korean skills came in handy finally arrived! Riding in a shared car along the Himalaya Mountains of northern Pakistan I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined I would have the opportunity to put my Korean language skills to use. Think again! After traveling for about eight hours that day our vehicle was haulted by security officers due to tunnel construction along the new roadway. “The tunnel is closed for the day!” bellowed a man in green and black fatigues. Suddenly, an uproar in Pashto exploded in our vehicle as all passengers were in disbelief at the thought of turning back. It was now past 4:30PM and they had to follow orders from the engineers working for Daewoo, a Korean construction company. We were in the middle of nowhere with no options but to drive in the opposite direction. However, after much debate in Pashto one of the men riding with us decided it would be a good idea for me to talk to the Korean engineers working in the office. After waiting for about an hour while chatting with some Pakistani construction workers over tea I was finally shown to the building where a Korean man in his late 50s was sitting at a paper scattered desk. I started shooting off some Korean and much to my surprise he had absolutely no reaction to the white guy dressed in traditional Pakistani clothing. I offered him some Korean chocolates from the heavily frequented tourist destination Jeju Island as his expression solidified even further. I gave up on trying to build rapport with him and finally explained our situation in his mother tongue as he listened intently. Finally, in a nonchalant manner he reached for his pen and granted our vehicle permission to pass through the tunnel after daily closing time. As I returned back to the car with the permit in hand everyone was all smiles and we made it to the mountain town of Chitral just after sunset.