News / USA

Food Comforts in War Zones

Breaking bread together opens doors to people's lives

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

Najibullah, Badkhen's bodyguard in Afghanistan
Najibullah, Badkhen's bodyguard in Afghanistan

War correspondent Anna Badkhen has covered some of the world's most brutal conflicts, from Iraq and Afghanistan, to Chechnya and Somalia. However, her memories are not only of the devastation she witnessed. In a new book, "Peace Meals," she shares her memories of the people she met, and explains how they are able to sit down and enjoy a meal in the midst of conflict.

Wherever Badkhen went, she broke bread with the people she wrote about. Those meals, she says, helped her open the door into those people's lives.

"You wake up, you see your family, you spend the day working or trying to survive," she says. "Then, at the end of the day, if you're lucky, you eat. That's where most of the important conversations happen."

'Peace Meals' author Anna Badkhen
'Peace Meals' author Anna Badkhen

While meals are usually a time for families to reconnect, she says they become even more significant in a war zone.

"Imagine a day you spend navigating a mine field. Imagine a day that you're not sure will ever end. And then the day ends and you come home and you sit down with your family and you celebrate," she says."You celebrate your survival of that day in a war zone. And you share what families share at dinner tables: How was your day? What are you thinking about? What are you hoping for? Most intimate conversations, I think, happen around dinner tables."

Sometimes, she says, dinner was bread and fried egg in a farmer's hut. One time, it was a lavish four-course meal at the home of a local warlord. There is a story behind each of the meals.

"One of the most memorable meals in my life was actually a handful of raisins that a very poor shopkeeper in a village in Afghanistan gave me," she recalls. "The village was about to starve. There was no food. The nearest market town was 17 hours walking away. Nobody had a car. And this man saw me and immediately assumed the role of a host because as a stranger I was his guest. He shared with me the only thing he had, which was a handful of gnarled, green, sandy raisins."

In 'Peace Meals,' war correspondent Anna Badkhen shares her memories of the people she met while covering conflicts around the world.
In 'Peace Meals,' war correspondent Anna Badkhen shares her memories of the people she met while covering conflicts around the world.

The subtitle of the book - "Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs" - came from a very different sort of encounter. In 2001, Badkhen was assigned a group of gunmen who were supposed to get her safely from Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan to Kabul, the capital.

"Sometime along the road, my bodyguards became robbers. They tried to rob me at gun point," she says. "And the guns that they pointed at me were wrapped with various different candy wrappers - pink and yellow and blue Hubba Bubba [bubblegum] wrappers, Donald Duck stickers - pointing at me from the muzzle of their Kalashnikovs. I thought it was a very surreal situation where I'm about to maybe get killed, but the gun looks like a cartoon character."

They let her go when other gunmen showed up on the road and scared them away. She managed to reach Kabul unharmed. Money was also an issue in a marketplace in the Iraqi capital, but this time, basic human decency won out.

"A little pickpocket reached into the backpack of my colleague and tried to steal his wallet and immediately a crowd surrounded us, a crowd of people who said they were there to protect us. Imagine a country that's burning, looting is everywhere, people are being shot at, things are blowing up, cars are blowing up, buildings are blowing up, and here is a group of lower middle class Iraqis who are standing around us like a wall, telling me that they don't want me to think that Iraqis are not a hospitable people. What mattered to them is I understand that they are good people."

In a chapter entitled, "Spice Girls," Badkhen introduces readers to the two female Iraqi translators she worked with in 2003.

"Shatha and Thanaa, they are two wonderful young Iraqi women. We became friends very quickly," she says. "We shared love of arts and had wonderful conversations that had nothing to do with war and everything to do with life. We talk about what women talk about: children, parents, boyfriends, husbands, marriage. Over the next seven years, our lives took us to completely different places. Shaza ended up living in Northern Iraq as a refugee. Sanaa married a Bahraini man and moved to Bahrain. And I moved to the United States, but we kept in touch. And it amazes me still, that despite the fact that we so rarely will see each other and we live under such different circumstances, our friendship has persevered."

Badkhen feels she learned many lessons from people she met in war zones, not only about food and friendship but, more importantly, about life.

When the possibility of death is so close every day, she says, you appreciate life all the more.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs