Almonds, walnuts and cashews are precariously tumbled into wide, flat dishes on street corners in Kabul, as crowds in the bazaars stocked up Monday on favourites such as “simian” — crispy noodles spiced with saffron.
The start of Eid al-Fitr, one of the biggest festivals of the Islamic calendar, is expected to be signalled by religious authorities in Saudi Arabia from Tuesday.
For three days Kabul, like much of the Muslim world, will come to a celebratory halt.
The sense of anticipation is a welcome if brief relief from Afghanistan’s worsening conflict, with a resurgent Taliban stepping up attacks across the country nearly 15 years after launching their insurgency.
Just last week more than 30 police cadets were killed in Kabul as a double suicide blast ripped through the bus that was taking them home for Eid.
Families who had expected to reunite with loved ones found themselves standing dazed and bereft at their gravesides instead.
And while the years of fighting have not destroyed the customs surrounding Eid, they have left their mark, with the economy brought to its knees by the insurgency.
“It’s beautiful stuff, but it’s too expensive for me,” smiles a teacher as she gazes on the nut stalls arranged beneath large, technicolour umbrellas.
Nasratulah Nasrat, a civil servant in his forties, orders five boxes of nougat and eight kilos of almonds, pistachios and raisins from the Ahmadina Dry Fruits shop in the capital’s Wazir Akhbar Khan area.
For the father of five, it would be unthinkable not to offer visitors plates of fruit and sweets washed down with tea — even if a kilo of white grapes has recently doubled in price to 600 afghanis ($9).
“Like it or not this is Eid, this is the tradition and you can not ignore it,” he says, adding that he could expect hundreds of visitors during the festival.
“Despite the war and even with their difficulties, people are bound to the tradition,” agrees Mohammad Sabir, owner of another store, Matmean Dry Fruits.
The extravagance extends to new clothes, with tailors full of shoppers purchasing shalwar kameez — traditional long shirt and trousers — and women decked in their best jewellery.
At Violet, a chic pastry shop in the Wazir neighbourhood, a girl named Negin clutches a big box of iced sugar cookies and describes the new blue dress she will wear.
For just a few days, the girl — who, for her part, defies tradition by wearing a baseball cap instead of the veil — does not want to think about war.