Salaam Afghanistan

Health and Ethnic Conflict.

My first visit to the Heart of Asia -- Reflections and Photos.

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Location: Mbarara, Uganda

Internist and Pediatrician with a passion for international health.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

PARTY! Afghan style.

Tonight our Chief of Party had a party for all the staff living in Kabul. This included our drivers, our guards, our cleaning staff, and everyone who works on projects here. The vast majority are Afghans. I was reminded this morning that the party was tonight. When I got up and came down to breakfast, I noticed that outside, our driver was dressed to the nines in a suit and shiney shoes, and that his hair glistened neatly under the weight of some unknown hair product. He was all ready for the party later on.

Despite being ill (I mentioned that I was sick for the past two days. Today was a bit better, after a little rest in the afternoon.), I was able to enjoy the evening.

I am so upset with myself that I failed to take photos! It was quite a sight. There was a large tent set up outside, basically an Afghan blanket set up on bamboo poles, with a bunch of low chairs around low tables set up underneath. At one end of the tent was a stage, where a local Afghan band set up with their instruments -- drums, and some interesting stringed instrumets -- and microphones. The musicians were in full Afghan garb, wearing nice shalwar kameez and new vests and the appropriate kullaa (hat) for their culture. (note to self: I should take some pictures of the different hats men wear here to share with everyone. they are very distinctive and tell the observer where the wearer is from) In front of the stage was a little area where they laid down Afghan carpets so that the men could dance. And they danced! I mean really danced!

One man at a time would get up and exhibit his dancing abilities. Lots of arms and jumping and kicking and lots of moving of hips. One of my friends aptly commented that this kind of dancing would just as easily transfer to a Dead concert. I prefer it set to the background music of central asian stringed instruments and drums. They played Iranian music, Afghan music, and Indian music, and the men took turns demonstrating their ability to meet the demands of each different type of song. Baba Jan, our head security dude that I mentioned before, not only sang in an amazing voice, but he also went around "recruiting" men to dance. Several men volunteered on their own, but several more had to be encouraged.

One of our dispatchers was trying to convince me to dance. I told him that there was no way I, the American woman who just arrived, was going to be the one to start the movement of women dancing in public parties with mixed company. He asked Baba Jan, who answered that of course, here at MSH we are equal opportunity and everyone has the same right to dance. I knew, though, that even if every single man at the party agreed individually that I could dance, collectively it would be unacceptable. What would they think of me?? I sat it out and enjoyed the show.

The food was amazing, but I couldn't enjoy very much of it. There was, of course, palaw (the national rice dish -- very oily, often with shaved carrots, or radishes and onions), kebab, and mantu (the forerunner of ravioli!). There was also plenty of naan and some potato bread. And for dessert, lots of fresh watermelon. I don't think watermelon grows as sweetly anywhere else in the world.



Everyone enjoyed their meal and then there was more dancing and singing (among the men only, of course) until late into the evening. One of my companions had refused to dance early one, but said that he would dance later. He laughed when I asked him, "After a few more 7Ups?" (or is that 7s Up?) Afghans still don't drink. Their fun comes entirely from enjoying each other's company, being moved by the music, and feeling warm after a good meal and one or two cans of 7Up.

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