Eva is on the board of Afghan Friends Network the non-profit I started. She has become a dear friend over the short period we have known each other. Eva exudes positive energy, relentless charm and unconditional love for everyone she meets. I am not surprised that every Afghan she met fell in love with her. This is true public diplomacy at work, now we just need 100 Evas to "win the hearts & minds of Afghan".
By guest blogger: Eva Vander Giessen
Last September, when San Francisco was finally warming up and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere was cooling down, I was given the opportunity to go to Afghanistan. “A dream come true” was my response. Despite the fact that no one would name Afghanistan a holiday paradise, this complex country has drawn me for many years. Afghanistan shines the light on humanity in its widest varieties. Two boys hauling crushing loads of rocks uphill on Eid in Kabul. A woman with a cracked tooth smiling and children walking two hours to attend literacy classes in Ghazni, a province of Afghanistan. Some people look at Afghanistan and see hopelessness. I meet Afghans and hope is unavoidable.
One reason for this is the kindness of the Afghans. Three minutes in a taxi and I’m suddenly being invited to have chai (tea) with my driver’s sister, mother, aunt and uncle. I’ve experienced hospitality when traveling, however, Afghans wear their hospitality with a pride that reflects their rich history and surpasses harsh realities of their every day lives.
In the face of this regal generosity, humorous situations can arise. I, for instance, am a card-carrying vegetarian. Being somewhat familiar with Afghan cuisine, I studied three different ways to politely decline meat when offered in Dari (one of the main languages of Afghansitan). They included vague medical reasons, equally vague religious reasons, and even “I to meat am allergic” mutterings. They lasted me six days and countless meals, until the mayor of Ghazni City personally placed a succulent skewer of lamb on my plate as the guest of honor. When a Mayor places a skewer of lamb on your plate, and you are painfully aware of the effort it has taken on the part of five diplomats and twelve military personnel to get you – and it – there… well, no convoluted mutterings of allergies seemed sufficient. I appreciated the lamb for all our sakes.
On the other end of the spectrum was a feast served by a colleague and her family that lasted four hours. This was just the eating. The cooking took ten hours prior and the cleaning another three. How this 22-year old does this while studying medicine, working with an NGO and running a business at the Women’s Garden had me amazed. Plate after plate of tender kadoo drizzled with yogurt, steaming qabili palau dark with seasoned meats and savory aushak plump with juices came out of the tiny kitchen. She had made a special effort to include a variety of vegetarian dishes, of which there are plenty. All were placed on a rolled out mat on the floor, accompanied by mounds of nan fresh from the nanwayee (bakery).
It was a magician’s trick: rather than pulling a rabbit from a hat, she pulled an 8” x 3” feast out of a 2” x 3” kitchen. Then came the melons, grapes – legendary from Ghazni province – and pears, all sweeter than anything you would find in a California grocery. Although candies feature prominently in any social gathering, the real desserts are Afghan fruits. I had no idea the wealth of pomegranates, apples, grapes and alike that I would find in the backyards of Kabul and Ghazni.
The fruit, like their gardeners, have seeds of sweeter futures inside. I cannot wait until my next cross-legged meal with Afghan friends. Perhaps, after a few more cooking sessions with Humaira jan, I can host one of my own with Afghan hospitality.
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