Stomach Rumblings

naan1.jpgThe snow that fell a few days ago in Lal wa Sarjangle is a foretaste of things to come. With snow several meters thick on the high passes, the province is pretty much cut-off for up to five months of the year.During the summer few people can grow enough food to see them through to the next harvest, even in a good year. This year’s harvest has not been disastrous but it has not been good. To survive people rely on sporadic remittances sent from family members working as casual labourers in Herat or Iran; running up ever more debt, often ending up in a position of bonded labour; selling precious livestock if they have any; or selling a young daughter.

A report out a while back by the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net) claimed the need for over 14,000 metric tonnes of food aid for Ghor. Some of this has been delivered before the snow closes the roads but there remains a shortfall. A meeting of the great and the good in Ghor couldn’t quite figure out how much of a shortfall, or how many people would need assistance. I left more confused than before at any rate. The one thing that does seem fairly certain is that for a large number of people, it’s going to be a long lean winter. Again.

The other thing I’m sure of is that I’m going to continue to bitch about the food I eat. Ok, so to go from the starving thousands to my own culinary gripes isn’t a particularly delicate or comfortable change of topic. But I’m going to end up bitching about my diet at some point so I may as well accept the contrast.

Naan. Dry flat bread. Many people will eat nothing else until next spring. I am sick of it now. Especially when it is accompanied, as it invariable is for me, by a bowl of oil: a strange, orange coloured oil of unknown provenance, though which I suspect is the engine oil used in machines making olive oil, recycled for the Afghan market. This bowl of oil usually contains a lump of stewed gristle and bone, occasionally some potato peelings or a couple of chickpeas. Rarely, this oil is used to drown, nay, massacre, an innocent vegetable.

Raw onions would be a saving grace if they weren’t first washed in river water then doused in salt, assaulting both my palate and my gut. Apples – peeled, old, soft and tasteless – are the only fruit. I have become mildly addicted to biscuits, able to devour a packet in minutes, as they at least taste of something, however synthetic.

So maybe I exaggerate a little, and most of the time I am content, or at leased used to this diet. And never hungry. But a few weeks back when I was ill – tired, worn out after five months without a break and with some nasty little bug – the very smell of this food made me gag and I could barely bring myself to eat anything for several days. Getting back on one’s feet on such a diet ain’t easy.

Praise be, I can get out and find food elsewhere. Pity the poor sods that live here eating bread and the benevolence of international food aid.


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