Finding Valium, Viagra and DVDs for Less Than $5

Asked whether he had any stories of recent extravagant customers, Abbas mentioned the man who paid him $13 for a 50-cent tab.

If you're really feeling flush, though, you can order what might roughly translate into "The Works," a full day of pampering for a bride and groom that features a makeup treatment for the groom to match the complexion of his face to that of his outfit. Cost: $50.

But sitting in this salon as the sun goes down, it doesn't take long to see that Pakistan is suffering from its worst economic crisis in more than a decade. As Abbas and the other men who run the salon speak, the electricity goes off. Chants of "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is Great," fill the market outside, calling Muslims to prayer, and the generator kicks in.

During business hours, Abbas says he suffers from three hours of power loss every day. In other parts of the country, the "loadshedding," as rolling blackouts are known here, lasts more than 12 hours.

And because inflation has peaked at more than 30 percent, the highest level in decades, business at the salon has fallen by more than one-third.

"The Pakistanis from Islamabad, they've vanished," said helper Nasim Magbool, his gelled hair falling just perfectly across his forehead. "They don't come to the shop anymore."

Not very many Pakistanis are going to any shops these days.

Take one of the best cheap destinations for food: Shinwari Saltish Mutton House, a kind of lamb restaurant named after a Pashtun tribe.

More than 2 pounds of barbecue lamb chops will cost you only $4.

"We are famous for tasty Pashtun cuisine," Zafrar Ahmad said outside the restaurant as he prepared to open it for the evening dinner rush. "Our food is authentic and fresh."

But since the attack on the Marriott Hotel last month, business has dropped more than 40 percent, Ahmad says, from about $700 a night to $400.

"Before, it was very good," he said. "But after the bomb blast, many people are scared and not coming out for dinner."

At Illusions, Sheikh shakes his head at the drop in business.

"Last year, the business was very good," he said. But "the current situation of the country -- bomb blasts, that kind of thing -- people are afraid to go shopping, go to public places."

Just a few months ago those "Iron Man" and "Batman" DVDs would have cost only about $1.30.

The 50 percent price increase mirrors a 50 percent drop in some sales, Sheikh says.

"This is a time when so many people shop," he said one recent evening, looking out at aisles filled with DVDs but empty of customers. "Where is everyone?"

There is one area where it is nearly impossible to find a good bargain. The price of guns is at an all-time high in Pakistan's black markets. As the security situation worsens, people are buying fewer DVDs and more arms to protect themselves.

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