Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Breakfast in Kabul

from a journal written when I spent five weeks in Kabul during the summer of 2005 consulting with an Afghan company that was developing an educational TV network

Breakfast is in the guest house’s common room. It’s cooked to order, but I have to go outside the main house to the neighboring building where the kitchen and housekeepers’ rooms are. You can order anything you want, eggs any way (cooked in a half-inch of oil), or stale cornflakes, toast, etc. The cooks are very familiar with Western breakfasts. The Asians like ramen noodle soup for breakfast along with maybe a couple fried eggs and toast or a sautéed slice of corned beef from a tin can. I started with fried eggs, a little wedge of foil-wrapped processed French cheese, a glass of OJ from Turkey and a big piece of Afghan Bread. The bread, served at every meal is like a puffy chewy pizza crust baked on a brick hearth-- tasty and satisfying and made all day long at little bakeries tucked into store fronts everywhere in the city.

The Afghan diet is not big on fiber. After the first week I went to the international grocery and bought a box of Kellogs all bran cereal (made in Manchester, England) to get some fiber. Now I have a bowl of cereal with full cream milk, a hard-boiled egg, or two, and jello-like Pakistani strawberry jam.

I could order pancakes, but the crusted syrup bottle on the table looks like it’s been there for six months. The true Afghan-style breakfast is a small frying pan of potatoes, tomatoes and barely cooked eggs. It’s eaten right from the frying pan and often shared by 2-3 people, each chowing down with a large spoon or moping up with a piece of bread, until it’s wiped clean. I have a fresh orange every morning; they’re imported from Pakistan and are generally juicy and delicious. They are in season now, along with water melon, so they are always available. I’ll have 2-3 a day, as I strive for my 9 portions of fruit and fiber. I have a big bag of bubble gum I brought, which I chew to ward off homesickness once in a while. Does bubble gum count as fiber?

After ordering breakfast, I go to the common room to watch the BBC morning news, or the Indian music videos. The BBC covers pretty much the same murder and other penny dreadful stories as US news. There’s always an in-depth report about Michael Jackson, but it’s nice to see a westerner at least once a day. As the only American I sometimes feel a little sheepish when the US gets accused of something especially stupid, and you certainly get a larger picture of the animosity felt toward the US around the world when watching the BBC.

But the rule appears to be that the more educated any population is, the more they appreciate the US. My housemates may be critical, but not hateful, and are disgusted by flag burnings and rioters that burn aid organizations, etc. The sad fact is that most Americans (or westerners) in the Middle East are trying to honestly help the situation, at great personal risk and sacrifice, and the idiots who want to hurt them are a disgrace to their educated compatriots. So there is an encouraging solidarity in the guest house. Education really is the key to solving the world’s problems.

Breakfast is filling and I get up to brush my teeth, a dreaded, major undertaking. The water is unfit for drinking, so I have to tote my 1.5 liter bottle of Nestle water along with my toothbush, paste and towel into the bath. The shower has given all surfaces a good wet down, so I juggle the water bottle the toothbrush, the two pieces of its case and the tube of Crest from home (ah memories), and the caps from the toothpaste and water bottle. There is a little shelf above the sink where everything is precariously laid out. I’d have to sterilize the toothbrush if it falls, likewise the Crest or anything else. I long for just turning on the tap having a good brush, and gargling all the water I want… don’t ever take water for granted.

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