Afghanistan's only escalator leads to shopping heaven
      28 - 09 - 2005 by Can Merey

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Kabul: It looks like a spaceship that has landed on the wrong planet. It is Afghanistan's very first shopping mall, gleaming with shops while on the dusty road outside people pump water and grim soldiers drive by in armoured vehicles.

The mall, which opened here this month, offers a lesson in contrast. It also boasts another first for Afghanistan, an escalator, which customers can use to reach upper floors - if they dare.

"People are afraid of the escalator. They are amazed to see something moving by itself," says Anwar Hussein, manager of the hotel that shares a nine-storey building with the shopping centre.

Click here to view a picture from the new Kabul

Customers afraid to use the escalator can take the lift in the safe knowledge there will be no power blackout because the building maintains its own generators.

The mall owners also claim their building is the only fully air-conditioned one in the capital and are advertising it as a cool haven for families during the national capital's searing summer months -- and as a warm, comfortable place to while away freezing winter days.

Mall director and co-owner Habib Safi is confident that visitors will not only use the centre to escape the city's harsh climate but will also spend money in its 90 shops.

"You have to take risks," the businessman said.
Shop proprietors who have leased space in the mall also believe in the newly emerging shopping frenzy.
"It is nice to shop here. The markets outside are dusty," said shop owner Abdul Kasim.
The dresses displayed in his shop windows are imported from Turkey, their designs being rather daring for Afghanistan.
Kasim is hoping for a good turnover regardless of the fact that many women in Kabul still wear the traditional, all-disguising burka.
Women can still wear these clothes at home, Kasim reckons.

But there are few customers strolling in the aisles between the gold, textile, furniture and electrical appliance shops and the caf? on the ground floor that offers "coffee to go".
The ample lighting, meticulously clean aisles and Afghan pop music blaring from invisible loudspeakers baffle potential customers.
The music only stops when the muezzin calls for prayers. It is only then that the casual visitor can recognise that they are still in Afghanistan.

Despite such peculiarities the first customers are excited. "That is real development. I wish Afghanistan were full of shopping malls," said customer Abdul Fatah, who had just purchased a silver wristwatch. The mall owners, who are already planning on expanding their retail empire beyond the city, could not agree more with Fatah.

Habib Safi plans to erect two skyscrapers with an incorporated shopping mall in the western Afghan town of Herat. In his office hang blueprints for the structures, which are to be called the Twin Towers.
Christening the Herat towers after their New York counterparts, whose destruction was plotted by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, is not at all tasteless, argues one of Safi's employees.
"The difference is that our towers won't collapse," he smirks.

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