For some Afghans weighed down by decades of war and struggle, a little comfort and distraction can be found in the company of birds.
The war seems a long way off in the Ka Faroshi bird market in the heart of Kabul’s old city, a narrow lane with a few alleys off it, packed with small, mud-walled shops festooned with bird cages.
Customers, most of them men, but some blue burqa-clad women too, squeeze down the crowded street, stopping to inspect birds on display, haggle with shopkeepers and buy bird seed and other supplies.
Fighting cocks and partridges squawk in bell-shaped wicker cages, while finches, larks and canaries of all varieties hop about in cages, and pigeons coo in small aviaries made of wire. (Click reut.rs/2nrZhJB for a picture package depicting the Kabul bird market.)
“In Afghanistan, it’s a passion to keep birds,” said Rafiullhah Ahmadi, who sells fighting cocks at the market.
“Some people love to keep fighting cocks, some love to have partridges and some love to have other kinds of birds. It’s a custom in Afghanistan.”
Most of the birds come from Afghanistan, caught in the wild or raised. Some are imported from neighboring countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, but traders said business was down, with few birds being imported these days.
Ahmadi said the best fighting cocks come from northern Afghanistan. The most expensive ones can bring up to 1 million afghanis ($14,000).
But the favorite of many Afghans is the chukar partridge, an elegant reddish-grey bird with a black band across its eyes and around its throat, a red beak, and black stripes on its side.
The partridges are bred for fighting.
“My passion is partridges, I’ve been keeping partridges for about 60 years,” said Abdul Khetab, 80, another market trader.
“I’m first in Kabul in partridge fighting.”
Another trader, Mohammad Zahir Tanha, said birds helped bring relief from the stress of life in the Afghan capital, recently hit by a spate of bloody militant attacks.
“I have a mental problem and doctors advised me to keep birds,” Tanha said in his shop, stacked with cages.
“Right now, I have about 50 pigeons. When I’m home I keep myself busy with the pigeons and that keeps me happy and fresh.”
Tanha said he was devoted to his birds and treated them like family.
“When you keep birds in a cage you have to take care of them the way you take care of your children,” he said.
“You have to love your birds because birds can’t speak, to say what they need.”
And are there any worries about bird flu in the market?
“Afghan birds don’t have bird flu, Pakistani and Iranian birds have that,” said Gawar Khan, who trades fighting cocks.