For the first time in four years, I am enjoying Thanksgiving at my home in America, with my family. Words cannot express how wonderful and strange this feels. During this time, I cannot help but to go back and remember the last three Thanksgivings; where I was, and what I was doing during them.
Photo lifted from Wikipedia: In 2009 the citadel was under construction, so it was not photogenic.
Thanksgiving 2009 I was living and working in Herat. I have always been extremely fond of Herat, because of its history, its beauty and the fact that it is one of the most peaceful cities in Afghanistan. I am assured that this is at least partially because of its proximity to Iran. Contrary to most of the Americans I’ve encountered who see Iran as the perpetual “Bogey Man”, Iran shares our goal of a peaceful Afghanistan, and puts a lot of effort into ensuring the Western parts that is can effect remain that way.
Herat in 2009 was home to a lot of Iranian students who were studying at the University, there, and I used to enjoy passing the days and nights hanging out in cafes and restaurants, and soaking up the automatic interest, and frankly, positive attention being American among Iranian young people in Herat. They were intensely curious about what it means to be American and almost universally wanted to assure us that the Iranian people wanted to be friends with the American people.
One of these turkeys are Thanksgiving dinner, 2009
While there, someone in our small group noted that Thanksgiving was just around the corner, and pointed out that there were several herds of Turkeys being shepherded (or is that “Turkey-herded”) around town, grazing on trash, bugs and seeds. We set out looking for a Turkey herd, and just past Alexanders’ Castle, we found one. We stopped for awhile and talked to the Turkey herder and bargained for a nice looking one. He asked whether we wanted it live or slaughtered; right now or later. Since we were still a few days out from Thanksgiving, we asked how we could have it later, and he laughed, and tied a blue ribbon around “our” Turkey’s leg. It was then that we noticed that about a third of his Turkeys were already marked with a rainbow of ribbon colors; all of which signified a buyer. It was a fairly ingenious solution to what to do with advanced ordering in a land where freezers/refrigeration is scarce.
Sure enough, a few days later, we set up a meeting place and picked up our now deceased, plucked and dressed Turkey, which we roasted at the apartment that housed a Western NGO. We managed to score some canned cranberries from the local American base, but the rest of the trimmings were decidedly exotic. Na’an, a mild local cheese, local pistachios and for dessert, Halvah, made in Iran.
A highly decorated horse and buggy going down the mainstreet in downtown Khanabad
Thanksgiving 2010 found us in Khanabad, in Kunduz Province, which is in the northernmost part of Afghanistan. Khanabad is a truly beautiful place; it’s proximity to the narrowest, deepest portion of the Amu Darya River means that there is always plenty of water, and that water is very energetic. In fact, there is a power generator station located there, that the US damaged in the initial invasion, and had yet to repair by 2010. Thanksgiving Day found us talking to the Deputy District Governor, the Chief of Police and the NDS Chief (NDS stands for National Directorate of Security, which is Afghanistan’s secret police). I was chafing at the succession of meetings, and managed to talk friend Holly into taking the indeterminate meetings and leaving me free to explore Khanabad. While I was strolling through the city, I bumped into a US patrol that was there to check on market conditions. After chatting with them for awhile, they kind of decided to “escort” me around the town, as naturally a US civilian wandering around an Afghan town by definition needed a military escort. I chuckled at this, and made a point of ticking them off by losing them a couple times.
Entrepreneurship; alive and well in Khanabad
While my self-appointed military escort was looking for me after I’d slipped away, I met an enterprising young man who had a basket of fried egg, potato and corn omelets, which he offered to me for sale. They looked absolutely delicious and were still warm. I purchased three of them from him and he gave me some Angur to put on them. Angur is allegedly ground grape seed mixed with a chile powder, and it adds quite a bit of flavor to the dish.
While eating these, I noticed my exasperated soldier escort come back to find me. They were just a bit disgusted to see that I was eating this and made dire warnings about what might happen to me if a) I wandered around Afghanistan alone and b) Ate food off the street. Oddly enough, the only times I’ve been sick from eating food in Afghanistan was in US or ISAF eating facilities. It was then that I noticed that it was Thanksgiving, and that I’d just had the most delicious Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of this young entrepreneur.
Safe, on Thanksgiving Day
Ironically, on the walk back to the meeting place, a strutting Turkey crossed my path as if to mock me, knowing he was safe in this place where Thanksgiving is not observed.
Friend Rachel enjoying a Turkish coffee after a delicious Turkish meal in downtown Kabul
Me doing the same. Only I look somewhat ogre-ish in this pic.
Thanksgiving of 2011 was also filled with irony, as I had my dinner with the Turks that live in Kabul. I had spent quite a bit of time living with Turkish nationals in 2010, and there are in fact, a couple of extremely good Turkish restaurants in Kabul. I remember quite clearly the delicious food they served; Lamacun for appetizer and Mixed Kabab plate for the main course. I had Dogh, a fermented milk drink, with a bit of mint in it to drink, (Both Afghans and Turks have Dogh, though Turkish Dogh has a distinct aged cheddar taste, whereas Afghan Dogh is much more minty in flavor). We had, of course, Turkish style baklava for dessert. Odd fun fact: Every Mediterranean, Central Asian and Middle Eastern culture claims to have invented baklava. The western-most claimants tend to have a lighter cooked, fluffier variant, while the Central Asian version tends to be swimming in honey and is baked to a darker hue. I have to claim a mild preference for Central Asian baklava, but I think I need to do more research, of course.
Well, this holiday we are having a wild breed of domesticated Turkey from the local organic grower (LaVentosa Farms) which we will prepare in our own way. While I will miss my good friends from Afghanistan, I will truly enjoy being surrounded by my family. And I wish each and every one of you a Happy and Peaceful Thanksgiving as well.