Kabuling It All Together

3 October 2011

My Resourceful Kabul Tailors

If you follow my tweets you know that I arrived in Kabul this afternoon minus my suitcase after a testy exchange (I’m afraid I raised my voice) with some India Air employees intent on exploiting my missing luggage tag and opportunistically charging me an “overweight fee”. It is supposed to arrive tomorrow — I ain’t holding my breath. To get me at least through tomorrow’s high level meetings (didn’t think arriving in my jeans and a pungent, 48 hour sweaty dress shirt would create the look and impression I am going for) our Country Director took me to a clothing store she knew where the two lads pictured above hooked me up with some serviceable raiments, complete with a 10 minute alteration job to adapt the stylish European cut suit to my decidedly unstylish, out of shape body. The whole thing cost less than $100 with a shirt and tie thrown in. The label said it was made in Turkey, and it may well have been, since the stuff made in China usually has a little note from a prisoner in the breast pocket: “If you receive this, please tell my relatives in San Francisco I miss them and will visit as soon as I serve out the rest of my sentence!”

I thought the prison labor thing was a joke, but a friend of mine from Zambia, which has a number of contracts with the Chinese government to develop their mining sector, assures me its all true. It works like this. A Chinese entrepreneur goes to the government and tells them he’s interested in working overseas in the extraction business. The Chinese government says Okay, Dude, and draws up a contract which gives the entrepreneur a loan for several million dollars plus — get this — several hundred jump suited Chinese felons who have at least three more years to run on their sentences. These guys are basically indentured servants who work for food and lodging. The entrepreneur has a guaranteed buyer in the Chinese government (the good news) but has to sell to them everything he produces at a price the government determines, which is always well below the world price.

Anyway, please don’t let the Tea Partiers read this as I’m sure this is the kind of economic model they could get very excited about. Tomorrow will be a big fundraising day, wish me luck. And let’s hope I don’t have to go on a second shopping expedition. I mean, how many Turkish suits can a guy use?

Rupert Scofield


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