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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Video Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL 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.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid