Attracting dust but few prospective buyers in a car lot on the outskirts of Kabul, three sedan cars, a crane and a dump truck sit abandoned due to a numerical curse that has swept Afghanistan.
A bizarre phenomenon that equates the number 39 with prostitution has become a headache for the car industry, as buyers avoid car license plates containing the dreaded number for fear of being ostracized.
“This is no longer just a social issue, it is becoming an economic issue for us,” said the car yard’s owner Said Mohammad Zaman.
“It has been months and no one is buying them,” he said, pointing at the white, black and blue sedans and the construction vehicles cluttering up his lot.
According to many Afghans, “39” got its bad reputation through a well-known pimp who was often identified by the number on his car plates as he drove around Herat, a western city that lies close to the border with Iran.
The man’s seedy image and illicit business meant that the number became associated with immorality. Apocryphal or not, the tale spread to other Afghan cities in recent years — and the curse was born.
Now anyone seen traveling around sporting a “39” license plate is in danger of being linked to the underground sex industry that is taboo in the devoutly Muslim nation.
Bashir Ahmad, who bought a Toyota Corolla for US$12,000 (NT$345,000) in Kabul at the beginning of the year, is now trying to sell it for US$6,000 (NT$173,000) after becoming a laughing stock in his neighborhood due to the unlikely urban legend.
“I didn’t know about this 39 thing, but soon some boys near my home started ridiculing me,” he says. “At first I didn’t care, but now every time I return from work, the boys shout ‘Hey! Here comes Haji 39!’”
1. outskirts n.
市郊 (shi4 jiao1)
例: The temple is located on the outskirts of the city, so it will take you at least an hour to get there.
2. ostracize v.
排擠 (pai2 ji3)
例: Survivors of mental illness are often ostracized by society.
3. ridicule v.
奚落 (xi1 luo4)
例: The other kids were ridiculing him for wearing a jacket in the middle of summer.
Car industry professionals say the number’s unwanted place in the popular imagination is damaging for dealers trying to make an honest living in the war-ravaged nation.