A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


 That's wish you were in my boots for once.

Following up on the last post (Ramazan), I now have the most appropriate photos...thanks to a memorable night of hospitality and camaraderie right nearby in the neighborhood.  Evening meal has become the high point of each day like never before, but nothing tops doing it right. 

Our chef enters through the Alice in Wonderland door.

At the behest of Richard Mackenzie (Agha), a dear friend and superb director who's now at work on a landmark television series focused on the Afghan army, my boss and I went out for dinner.  The twist was that the chef and staff of a fine guesthouse in Kabul where we would dine were told that we were in fact fasting for Ramazan as well, so they did what any Afghans would...insist that we join them for Iftar, the traditional meal breaking fast immediately after sundown.  We wouldn't think of turning down a request like that, and given the long history Richard has in Afghanistan and at this particular lodge, we couldn't wait.

"Can I come in too?"
"Well, OK, but only because you brought more naan!"

Upon arrival, we headed through the main building, then back outside and round its corner to see the whole gang waiting in near-darkness, and got to greet our new friends.  One by one, we then crouched through the tiny doorway above into a basement space where they share their meals.  The stragglers arrived for awhile, as did the main course...but at that point, we'd have been happy to subsist just on water, naan and bolani.  What is bolani, you ask?  It's a traditional Afghan flatbread (always prepared by women...this is non-negotiable, apparently) baked or fried with a vegetable filling.  This time it was onion and some spinach.  I've never had a bad one.

Dave and I awaiting the green light to tear into it...

We started with a few delicious dates, the most traditional way of all to break the fast, and then began scarfing down the rest of it -- all delicious, of course.  No utensils were used by any of us, communal dishes were dipped into with abandon, and we wouldn't hear of it when our host tried to apologize for not doing anything special.  This meal may as well have been set in the biblical era, as there was just an absolutely timeless feeling about it may have been a typical Iftar for the staff, but they may never know how special it was for us.

Digging in...who brought the Marine, anyway?

As always here, we had conversations that just couldn't be imagined elsewhere -- accounts of growing up through periods of war, upheaval and more war.  One of the diners has known Richard since he was eight or nine and running errands for the now-defunct German Club.  Realizing that our chef was my age was briefly bewildering, as I tried to contemplate navigating the eras that so brutally changed the landscape, social structure and prospects for the future of Afghanistan over the past three decades.  I often do the same thing with my older colleagues, but it really hit home when a virtual 'twin' is telling you his story.

Busted stealing your buddy's bolani...nei hobast.

Richard was not only the one responsible for this experience, but he took most of the photos (the high-quality ones, naturally).  You've got to keep these creative types working, you see.  Really, I have been most fortunate to gain the friendship of a man whose earliest days in Afghanistan were spent on operations with the great Ahmad Shah Massoud, and who has kept coming back since.

The juxtaposition never ceases to amaze me, as we discussed after the meal...Afghanistan can be both the most hospitable and inhospitable place on earth.  The hospitality was firmly on display for us once again this evening.  As for the other side of things...

Taking it back away from the capital, my attention was drawn over the past week to one of my previous locations, the beautiful badlands of Kunar province.  The story below is about a FOB that now sits in a village I passed through while on my way from the Pech Valley into the Korengal in fact it's exactly where I jumped off one convoy I was 'hitching' with, and onto the one I was seeking.  Unfortunately they are under constant bombardment these days, which isn't hard to imagine given the heights under which it sits directly, and the recent withdrawal from the Korengal Valley after a 4-year presence.  Below the story is the link to a post of mine about the crazy crossing of the snowmelt-rushed river in that very spot.

Defending the Fishbowl: Soldiers face uphill battle at the mouth of the Korengal Valley

AfghaniDan: Crossin' the Pech

It's just a bit of a mind-bender when you realize that the very villages which greeted us with curiosity and smiles four years ago are under siege...and soldiers who were probably in high school then are now risking their lives daily to return fire, and give what passes for local governance a chance.


Blogger RockGirl said...

I read your blog! All that food looks amazing. I really appreciate reading about what is going on over there written by someone who is there and understands, too.

August 18, 2010 at 7:04 AM  
Anonymous Slapistan said...

- the dinner, hospitality, and company sound amazing
- the Stars & Stripes article is not an encouraging sign, especially as foreshadowing of what could very well happen as we pull out of more parts of the country
- the 'look back' to your '06 post was fun; I still think of that particular post as one of the most memorable of your entire '06 deployment
- the "afghan yoda" pic looks like something out of one of those crazy dream-sequence montages in "the song remains the same" ... or maybe AIC's great "man in the box" ... or better yet, a classic Ronnie James Dio vid!

August 18, 2010 at 8:49 AM  
Blogger Joneser said...

What a great description of not just the food (you actually made me want to try bolani) but the experience. It sounds like it was a very meaningful one, especially the stories you heard from someone your own age.
And I loved the pics! It's so cool to actually get to see some of the people you meet.
Keep up the awesome blogs!

August 18, 2010 at 8:55 AM  
Anonymous LT Goo said...

That break-fast dinner sounds great! No utensils, communal dishes, conversation that one would be so lucky to be just a fly on the wall for..sounds unbelievably authetic!
And of course, MANY props to you for following the fasting of Ramazan (as well as the lack of swearing and grudges...i'd think those might be harder for you!) But I'm not alone in thinking that it's really cool that you're doing that to further connect to the people you're helping...
All the best bro, keep it up- your readers can't get enough of ya!

August 18, 2010 at 12:11 PM  
Anonymous LilSisArmyWife said...

FANTASTIC! I can't tell you how proud I am to read, and send your blog links to friends...your outlook over there (and ability to document it well) is impressive and refreshing.
Keep it up and don't ask your hosts "how you spell it?" regarding the cuisine at the break-fast table, k?
Love ya, Bro!

August 18, 2010 at 8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your blog too! As an old friend, I can say that I am very proud of you! Your message is clear and well stated. G

August 18, 2010 at 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Weezie said...

I second what Joneser said... and as for the bolani, I have to ask if it's Oscar Meyer. heheeee! J/k, my worldly brother.... looked like such a cool experience (as is every day for you, I bet)! Very neat seeing pictures of where you are and what you are doing. Miss you tons!!! xo

August 19, 2010 at 7:59 PM  
Blogger John Cocktoasten said...

There was an Afghan restaurant about a 3-wood away from my apartment in D.C. Good, but I'd love to try the real thing and see how Americanized our place was compared to the real thing. It'll probably be a few years before I get around to doing that though...

I think your cultural experiences are a bit more rewarding than what we have on this side of the world--The Jersey Shore just started its second season (Snooky's pulling for the troops) and McDonald's has not revealed if the McRib will be available for the NFL season.

Keep it coming. Classes don't start until Tuesday, but I keep managing to learn something anyway.

August 21, 2010 at 2:08 AM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

RockGirl, GTM & my sibs- thank you all! (Slapistan, I would have thought Yoda was a hallucination if I didn't have that pic...)
Wood- your updates are priceless.
Semper Fi!

August 26, 2010 at 2:22 AM  

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