Monday, January 31, 2005

So what's for lunch?

So I'm sitting here in the middle of the afternoon, and - stupidly - instead of going out and grabbing something to eat, I've already ordered a sandwich, so now I have to wait for food. I hate waiting for food (the Army will do that to you.)

I was thinking this morning about the few things I miss about Afghanistan (besides the being shot at part - boy howdy!) One of them, believe it or not, is the food. This morning, I had a sane, responsible bowl of Cheerios w/ lowfat milk, fruit and OJ. The typical Afghan breakfast out where we were was a piece of unleavened flat bread, sort of like pita - we called it Haji bread, for obvious reasons, or "foot bread," for reasons you don't want to know. We'd get a small sterile box - like the hermetically sealed little milk or juice boxes that you poke a straw into - with whipped heavy cream, mix in some sugar, and spread it on the freshly baked flatbread. I usually had sher chai - black tea - with milk and sugar to go with it There was usually some fruit with breakfast, too. It was also a pretty safe meal to eat out of an Afghan "hotel", their equivalent of a roadside diner. (Not, mind you, that I was very worried about the food, actually. By the end of my tour, when we were out of the camp a good bit, I was pretty much eating three meals a day with the Afghan soldiers who were with us. The only time I got sick over there was when I ate at the chow hall in Bagram, which just goes to show you something.)

We had Afghan soldiers at our A-camp, and we had a messhall for them run by Afghan civilians. Since lunch was often a hit or miss affair at the firebase, I'd usually step over to the Afghan chow hall instead of breaking open an MRE or throwing a frozen pizza in the oven. Most of the time, lunch was "chicken surprise" - a mound of saffron rice with some raisins and spices with a piece of chicken buried underneath. There was typically a small bowl of spicy stew on the side, and, of course, some of the ubiquitous flatbread. The really cool thing was that the drink they served was like one of those Capri Sun juice bags - again, that you poke with a straw, but the bag, not the box - except it had sweetened sour cherry juice - kind of like cherry lemonade, but more sour than bitter.

The chicken dish was the source of one of those jokes that never got old - from time to time, we'd have visitors from Bagram or Kandahar, or a new group of Afghan soldiers would rotate in with American trainers (we "advised" the Afghan Army at our firebase - each group of Afghan soldiers would rotate out to us for a month or six weeks, then return to Kabul for leave, refit and more training. In addition to the SF guys out in the field with them, they had American combat arms officer and senior NCO advisors who stayed with the unit, rotated out of Kabul to the field and then back with the Afghan forces. This "embedded tactical trainer" (ETT) mission was by all accounts a good one - you got to spend about a third of your time actually out fighting the war, and the other two-thirds training the nucleus of the Afghan army, right outside of Kabul, with much less chickenshit than the conventional army usually brings to bear.)

Enough digression - whenever somebody showed up, we'd invite them for the chicken surprise at the Afghan messhall - Inevitably, somebody would ask "Why do you call it chicken surprise?" The answer or course, usually timed for when somebody was taking a sip of coffee" was always (wait for it. . .) "Well, the chicken was astonished." Ahh, I kill me.


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