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Middle East

    Afghanistan, Food

    Eating naan in Kandahar

    Let’s discuss this. This is naan. Not just any naan. This is real, Afghan naan.

    It’s my personal belief that by literally breaking bread with another from a different culture, you can learn a great deal from them. Three years ago, I was in Afghanistan for five months. While working with the locals, we were offered tea on a daily basis, usually green tea, drinking it hot and without sweeteners and it almost seemed rude to turn it down. Even during Ramadan, it was a polite gesture by the locals to be offered tea. During those long and very hot days, we politely declined in an effort to respect their days of fasting.

    The meals were reminiscent of a typical middle eastern cuisine. We ate lamb, which was questionable and butchered in Kandahar, or goat meat, also questionable, along with rice sprinkled with golden raisins. I never thought I’d see it, but we were also offered ‘doogh’, a yogurt beverage (called ‘tan’ in Armenian) which can lead to a stomach ache if too much is consumed. I was surprised with the amount of fresh watermelon we ate. I didn’t think that much was available in the desert!

    Until we found out the local cook had hepatitis.

    But then, of course, there was the naan. During our stay, our interpreters would often bring us stacks of naan made in their housing area. There was enough for each of us to eat at least two or three pieces. Baked in a tandoor, or an oven made of bricks, the naan had to be eaten fresh, while the dough was still warm and soft, and you can practically taste the smoke from the oven. Wait too long (i.e. a couple of hours) and it turned hard and stale.

    I’ve never had naan this good in the States. It clearly doesn’t compare with the real thing.

    Qatar, Travel

    The one time we almost got stranded in Doha…

    …because one of the folks I was traveling with had a knife in his carry-on luggage.

    A no kidding switchblade knife. After not one, not two, but four layers of security.

    A year and a half ago, I had a 48 hour notice before going to Afghanistan. Investigating plane crashes often include picking up and leaving on short notice and this trip was no different. I managed to pack, get my dog taken care of at a local pet resort, and purchase tickets within those couple days with an early morning flight out of Phoenix. As a team, we came from different parts of the country, flying into Baltimore before boarding a trans-Atlantic flight. The flight was pretty uneventful and after a quick layover at Abu Dhabi IAP, we boarded the plane to fly into Doha IAP (now relocated at Hamad IAP) in Qatar. The amount of security was astounding, taking off our shoes just before boarding and the palms of our hands were swabbed.

    The trip home, a week later, was where it got interesting. We were still exhausted from the jet lag and had been working for 15-18 hours each day. A few flights later, we were back in Qatar and we got on a bus to catch our flight out of Doha. As we were getting our tickets, two folks’ tickets weren’t reserved as planned even though we requested return tickets from the Commercial Travel Office two days prior. Luckily, thanks to a charged Blackberry with international service, we managed to get ahold of the Commercial Travel Office and they were able to get the tickets.

    Everything was fine. Or so we thought. I remember going through security and then handing my ticket over to a gentleman who was checking it and my passport, continuously asking where I was going. The language barrier, and the culture, made it a little difficult to get through the airport. Having worked with and mentored Afghans while in Kandahar for five months, the cultural difference in that part of the world is very noticeable and sometimes tense. Eventually, we made it through to the gate. It was late and we had one final security check prior to getting on the bus and eventually to the plane. We had already been through three layers of security, to include our bags being x-rayed and being opened. During the last check, the security personnel noticed something suspicious in my buddy’s carry-on bag. I cannot reiterate enough that this bag of his had already been opened and x-rayed three times prior to this.

    He was so sure it was a belt. Totally sure of it. The security personnel proceeded to open his bag and pull out a switchblade knife. And he, of course, could have sworn he had put it in his checked luggage.

    So what happened? Well, they took his passport, his ticket and a couple of folks on our team had already boarded the bus and the rest of us were waiting back to see what would happen. A purely accidental misplacement of a knife led to the unsurety of whether or not we’d be able to get on that plane. It was definitely not something we anticipated. The rest of the passengers went through the final security checkpoint prior to boarding the bus and we still waited. This was the only flight out of Doha and we had to be on the plane at all costs.

    What seemed like an eternity, the issue was resolved. I don’t’ know how, but my buddy’s ticket and passport, and his personal belongings, sans the switchblade knife, were returned and we boarded the bus. The bus ride to the plane itself took at least ten minutes, on the other side of the airfield and it was a relief to finally board the plane. I remember sitting down in my seat, breathing a sigh of relief at finally going home.

    So here’s a lesson kids: double check your luggage for contraband, like, y’know, knives and such.


    Good morning, Qatar!

    I had to stay in Qatar for a couple nights last May. Gotta love the jet lag and I saw the city through the windows of a bus, and we got lost one of the nights when driving from Doha International Airport, but here’s a picture I took the morning we left.


    A week in Kabul

    This is one of my favorite pictures I took while in Afghanistan. A picture is worth a thousand words and there was definitely a story behind it.

    I’d like to say I roamed the city. On the contrary, I saw very little of it except for what I saw outside the window of an up-armoured vehicle the during Passover week in 2012. The streets were bustling with people, and there were many advertising signs and marketplaces. Women were seen walking around wearing more modern clothes and hijabs compared to those I had seen in Kandahar. I don’t claim to be an expert…far from. But observations say so much.

    During that week, I had visited the National Military Hosptial, which is the largest in the country. The smaller military hospitals in the various regions of Afghanistan (Kandahar, Herat, etc) branch off this main one and aren’t as large or as populated with medical workers. The rest of the trip consisted of briefings. Exciting, huh.

    This isn’t a political post, but political events did lead to that picture. The graffiti seen here was the second part of, possibly, an activist’s way of protesting the burning of Qurans at Bagram AB two months prior. The burning of Qurans made the news and resulted in protests and deaths of coalition members. The graffiti clarified the importance of reading the Quran, not burning it.