Dispatches: Afghanistan

afghanistan Took the highway near Jalalabad, a stretch of road popular with suicide bombers.  Afghan Army and police were everywhere setting up checkpoints here and there.  Smaller but beefier NATO units supplemented the security force.

After the gauntlet, we reached the town by early afternoon.  Saw a clan of Kuchi nomads spread out over a barren stretch of sand along the road.  Tents like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in were pitched.  Herds of black goats dotted the wasteland, and camels lolled about the settlement.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal from a Pashtun believer named Dr. Mohammed who heads up a clinic here.  Pashtun hospitality is legendary, and so is Purdah—the division between men and women.  The only indication of the presence of a woman in the house was the steady stream of fine dishes that filled the floor as we reclined around the wall on toshaks.  Mohammed’s sons washed our hands in a basin and brought in platters of kabuli pilau, mantu dumplings, and grilled mutton sausage called chapli kebabs.  We finished off with grapes and tea spiced with cardamom.  Mohammed showed us great courtesy, but the joy he had in giving it was the very definition of hospitality.  He was trained in medicine during the Soviet occupation, and so he gave us a Russian proverb as we drank our last cup and were thanking him for the fine meal.  He said, “It’s not what you eat that’s important but who you eat it with.”

Mohammed’s daughter came in for a time to join her young brothers.  She is a beautiful girl with eyes that are deep and calm, and her father shows great affection for her.  As we left the house, I had a fleeting glimpse of the other lady of the house—a translucent curtain screened a veiled woman half-hidden as she peered around the doorpost at her guests.  The men went out so Lisa and Grace could stay and greet Mrs. Mohammed.  Lisa said she is a beautiful woman with the same deep calm eyes as her daughter.

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While we waited for the ladies, Mohammed plucked a most fragrant rose from his garden and gave it to me.  I’ve never had a man give me a rose before—but it’s OK this time for it is a Pashtun custom of honor!  And so as we drove back down the Jalalabad Road through the gauntlet of guns, the contrast of war and roses was a fragrant irony of life in Afghanistan.