I had the chance to eat dinner with a few Afghani policemen recently and it was quite a treat. It was far better than any meal I have had in mess halls in five months. Saying it was better than the mess halls really isn’t saying much, this meal was excellent.
Michal and I arrived at their building on the small firebase after the early evening prayers. The building is old and plain. We walked down a hallway and took off our shoes at the entrance to a communal room.
We entered a large carpeted room with cushions and a few pillows along a couple of the walls. We were seated on the cushions after greeting the couple of men in the room. There was a TV playing on a small table that wasn’t getting paid much attention. I saw an ad for the show “Prison Break” and noticed that the only flesh of any woman that was not blurred out was the face. It must take a lot of work to prep US and European television shows for Afghani television. In the rural area we were in, there are three stations and only one man in the area has a television set.
Two other men came in carrying the fresh Afghan flat bread, some bowls of food and a rolled up vinyl mat. The mat was
spread out in front of us and pieces of flat bread tossed down on the mat. Then, the bowls were placed in the middle, so everyone could reach them. There were two bowls of each dish. The cook is also a policeman, they completely fend for themselves in this regard.
One was beef kidneys in a dark sauce, the other beef and potatoes in a lighter broth type sauce. Two of the policemen spoke excellent English and apologized that the only vegetables were potatoes. Normally, Afghanis eat a lot of vegetables. He explained that they were dependent on the military helicopters to bring in their supplies. The Chinook I came in on had a pallet of rice, oil and potatoes on it for them, actually. But, they don’t always get everything they need.
Everyone picked up a flat bread and tore off a bite sized piece, then dipped it in one of the bowls to sop some sauce and sometimes grab a piece of the meat. I made sure to observe the right hand only in the food rule and not double dip. Both dishes were very simple. It is typical of poor people’s food that there is normally a starch of some kind and a flavorful sauce with vegetables, spices and small amounts of meat or fat for flavor. The kidney sauce was awesome and the kidney was good. Normally, I am not an organ fan, but this kidney was nice. I wasn’t even sure what it was until I asked. Once I knew and concentrated, I could certainly tell it was kidney.
The other dish was basically boiled meat and potatoes in some of the cooking liquid, with some onion and maybe a few other spices like salt. You didn’t need any salt added. We sat and, good hosts that they are, they tried to push another piece of bread on me, but I was too full. One piece of flat bread, a few pieces of meat and sauce dipped bread made up a very filling meal. We talked about a variety of things; meals are very social for the men.
After we were all done, the youngest policeman picked up the bowls and leftover bread, cleaned the mat and rolled it up. I figured we were done eating, as we sat a few minutes talking. The, he came back with glass mugs, tea pot and three plates of goodies. They used a mild green tea served hot and without milk or sugar. The goodies were dried chickpeas (we had a big discussion about what they were in English, Polish and Pashto), raisons and almonds. He also put down a tin of candy. This was the real social time of the meal, as we talked, sipped tea and nibbled on the condiments. All were good, especially the raisons, which were better that the standard American raison, smaller but more flavorful.
Four Afghan policemen (all from Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, northeast of Ghazni Province), a Polish medic, and an American computer and electronics guy sitting down to a real Afghani meal in a very rural area of southern Ghazni Province was a scene I figured I’d never see. It was very enjoyable and we even talked about the war and its politics.