The first Asia-Europe International Trade Exhibition and Conference is held in Kabul for five days to commemorate the 88th anniversary of independence Afghanistan. The exhibition was attended by several Afghan national and international companies, but we may be proud as Indonesia joined the exhibition as the sole country participant.
Indonesia, represented by the embassy, has quite a sizeable booth in the exhibition. The ambassador himself, with full contingent of all diplomats (we have 5), attended the opening ceremony. There were all ladies from the embassy wearing kebaya national dress. Compared to other booths (TV companies, supermarket, design company, carpet products, etc), Republic of Indonesia booth was an obvious distinguished one.
Why Indonesia has to be represented as a country and not by any national companies? “It’s a pity that our businessmen are not interested at business in Afghanistan. Actually if we dare to risk, the market in Afghanistan is quite good. We (the embassy) have offered to Indonesian companies, but as they are not interested, so we come to exhibit here,” said a diplomat friend told me. Indonesian embassy is not a company, so what they can bring to exhibit?
You can see a collection of new Indomie products, especially the well accepted Pop Mie (instant-noodle-in-cup), being sold together with medicines, notebooks, HVS paper sheets, cooking ingredients, etc. This all are private belonging of Mr Epi, embassy staff-cum-businessman. We also may see wheelchair, hospital bed, and disabled stick. These items, really Afghanistan-oriented considering number of victims and disabled citizens due to the wars, are for show only. The embassy also exhibits their collection of traditional dresses, batik garments, and Indonesian souvenirs. A TV is playing an advertisement of Indonesian tourism: beautiful waterfalls, ladies walking in tight kebaya under decorated umbrellas, volcanoes, men diving down under, etc, despite of the fact that it’s next to impossible for Afghan citizens to get tourist visa to Indonesia.
In a word, all of the items were collected by the embassy itself. An embassy, with a big willingness of ‘marketing’ the country, now has to replace the position of item collector and exhibitor to gain the interest from the emerging Afghan market.
“How much this cost?” asked a lady, being invisible totally wrapped by blue burqa, after choosing some Indonesian batik clothes from the hanger.
“Sorry, but it’s not for sale. It’s just for exhibition,” answered an assistant of the stand.
The lady was disappointed and moved to souvenir table.
A diplomat friend who just started to speak basic Dari conversation had the duty to guard the table. There were some textile wallets ornamented with Javanese batik design.
That hand from the blue textile grabbed a big wallet, opened the plastic, checked the zip, rubbed the bottom, looked up and down, before asking, “How much this?”
“100,” said the healthy diplomat in Dari. It’s about two dollars.
“Ooo… that’s too expensive. 50! 50!” the woman voice flew from behind the blue garment.
“No. 100. Can’t be less than that.”
The woman in blue garment left away with disappointment. My diplomat friend sighed while re-wrapping the wallet.
But actually the result of the exhibition was quite optimistic. Mr. Epi told me that many of the products were sold, and people showed great interest especially to the Pop Mie cups. Women also showed interest to the traditional wedding dresses and batik clothes although quite often it turned to be disappointment after they found that the clothes were not for sale. The brochures on Indonesian tourism and investment, which were provided by the Social Culture section of the embassy, were always out of stock on each day of the exhibition – even if there were many Afghan children who picked the colorful brochures to see the photos of a foreign country somewhere they have never known.
Indonesian products do exist in Afghanistan market, although is still less comparable than the Chinese ones. In Afghanistan, it’s difficult to drink from a glass not stamped “Touchened Glass – Royalex – Made in Indonesia”. The Emeron sachet shampoo with the smiling Ikke Nurjanah showing her beautiful black hair (not wearing veil!) is also popular among Afghans. The diplomat also mentioned electronic, food, and furniture products have entered Afghan market. I proposed next time Indonesia should make Muslim dress fashion show, as the designers in Indonesia once boasted themselves as the trendsetter of Muslim dress in the world (followed by Malaysia as second). My diplomat friend said, “Good idea! It’s also what we can offer as moderate Muslim country!”
At least this is a small contribution of the Republic of Indonesia to their brothers and sisters in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.