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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora