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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community 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.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid