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Conflict Kitchen

Only serves food from countries with which the United States is in conflict


OUR CURRENT FOCUS IS ON THE FOOD, CULTURE, AND POLITICS OF AFGHANISTAN

Events

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Event: The Lunch Hour (Afghanistan)

When: April 18th NOON – 1:30

Where: Conflict Kitchen (under the tent next door to Conflict Kitchen

Join us for an informal Afghan lunch and conversation about the recent Afghan presidential election. With: Marwa Hasanzoi, Fulbright Scholar from Kabul, Afghanistan Sahar Momand, Afghan-American Student at Carnegie Mellon Dr. Mohammad Sidky, Professor of Global Management at Point Park Afghan lunches will be available to purchase. *Cosponsored… MORE >

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Event: The Lunch Hour (Ukraine)

When: March 21st NOON – 1:30

Where: Cathedral of Learning, 12th floor, Room #1228

Join us for an informal Ukrainian lunch and conversation about current events in Ukraine. With: Dr. Adriana Helbig, Professor of Music and Author of “Hip Hop Ukraine” Taras Shablii, Ukrainian Student at Pitt School of Law Svitlana Maksymenko, Lecturer in Pitt’s Dept. of Economics Ukrainian… MORE >

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Event: Ellis School Visits Conflict Kitchen

When: December 8, 2010

Where: Conflict Kitchen

Conflict Kitchen played host to almost seventy students and teachers from Pittsburgh’s Ellis School on Wednesday, December 8. Conflict Kitchen co-creator Dawn Weleski presented the project and bolani filled with spinach, potato and leeks, and red lentils were served to the guests. Afghan-American Mohammed Sidky… MORE >

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Event: Festival Belluard Bollwerk International

When: Summer 2011

Where: Friboug, Switzerland

We presented the Conflict Kitchen project this summer at the Festival Belluard Bollwerk International, Friboug, Switzerland with our friends Iranian artist/curator Sohrab Kashani, director of Sazmanab Project, and Afghan filmmaker Hamed Alizideh, a member of Kabul-based CSFilms. We each presented the conditions that gave rise… MORE >

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Event: Live Skype Exchange and Screening with Filmmakers in Afghanistan

Filmmaker and educator Michael Sheridan presented a screening of selected documentary shorts by a group of filmmakers he has been working with in Afghanistan. The participating Afghan filmmakers Skyped in for a live question and answer session after the screening. Michael Sheridan is the director… MORE >

Creative Time Summit 2012

Event: Creative Time Summit: North and South Korea

When: October 1st, 2013

Where: NYC Judson Church

Presentation and meal for 250 people in Judson church. Those sitting on the right side of the table were served a traditional South Korean dish while those on the right side of the table were served a traditional North Korean dish. Depending on which side… MORE >

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Interviews

Our Food Wrappers Feature Interviews With Afghans
Living in Afghanistan and the United States

U.S. Presence

I think that after 9/11, the destiny of the U.S. and Afghanistan became linked with each other to maintain security and deter any terrorist attacks to the U.S. The presence of the U.S. in Afghanistan is essential. The good thing for me is that the U.S. has overthrown the Taliban from power, giving women and children more freedom.

The U.S. presence is an occupation force supporting a government not considered legitimate by the majority of the population. As such, it has been a tragic mistake, costing thousands of lives and the general destruction of the country. Without a legitimate government, the lives of our people are caught between U.S./NATO forces, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations, local landlords, warlords, and drug lords.

I think you know perfectly well that, as a whole, people are not satisfied with the presence of U.S. army. They made too many mistakes and, as a result, after nine years of war, terrorism is not defeated yet. People doubt the reality of this war. Of course, after the Taliban falling, the ordinary people’s life changed in a good direction; however, these changes are more prominent in the lives of those Afghans who work in NGOs, UN organizations, or have private businesses.

For me there are lots of changes. I have a good job and income. I have access to new technology. I can improve myself day by day. But my concern is about the other people in my country. They are living in a dark situation, and they are killed by different military groups and don’t know how to survive or how to improve their economic situation.

 

 

Government

The type of government is irrelevant at this point. What is important is that whatever government comes to power, they will have the ability to respect human rights, defend national sovereignty, work for peace and social justice, and be recognized as legitimate by the majority of our people.  The current government is an illegitimate puppet regime of the U.S. International organizations have recognized that the Afghan “electoral process” is defined by corruption and fraud. The current government has little jurisdiction outside the capital city and remains in power with U.S. military support.  Afghans in general would like the war to end, the occupation armies to depart, and the terrorism to cease. It is only then that people can get back to rebuilding a destroyed nation.

The current government is very corrupt and polluted. Corruption has now become a culture. It’s too difficult to get rid of this disease. As an example, you as an Afghan can’t get your national I.D. Card without paying a bribe. You see all those human-rights violators in the top government positions. We need to curb the corruption. Even though the current system is good and based on democracy, it is sick already.

 

Government (cont.)

Mr. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, is better for the people, but those people who are around Karzai are not fruitful people – they only think about their own family, not the Afghan people. In fact, all of the minster’s family is living abroad. We need a civilian government, and we need cooperation from international donors like the U.S.A. or other’s countries.  However, they need to not take advantage of us and not be here for a long time so that our own government can take over.

They’re doing the wrong thing over there, in Afghanistan.  We’re people of royalty.  We have royalty in our blood.  We’ve been having king after king after king after king.  So what they’re trying to do is bring democracy?  Yeah, right.  Democracy’s going to work?  The only way it’s going to work is if you wipe us out and bring in a new generation.   There are a certain people who think democracy is going to work.  They’re the ones that have been living outside of the country.  They’ve been living with democracy for over 25 years somewhere else. They’re used to it.  And then they come over here and think people who have been through the war and lost so much will want that democracy?  I’m not saying that democracy doesn’t work in some countries where there is some level of economic or ideological stability.  But in Afghanistan, I feel like they’re trying to stuff it down people’s throats.  Afghans can’t relate to this.  So it’s like having a bird in a cage all its life and then, all of a sudden, you’re going to say, “Well, look at all these other birds.  They go flying and then they come back home at night.”  You try to do that to your bird that’s been in a cage all it’s life, most likely the bird’s not going to come back.

Ethnic Identity

Afghanistan is a vast country and, as a result, has a rich mix of ethnicities and tribes. When I introduce myself to a foreign person I say that I’m an Afghan from Afghanistan, but when I talk with my people from my country, I said I’m from Kabul, and I’m Tajek.

I consider myself as “Afghan.” Afghans from diverse ethnicities have much in common and are bound together through religion and national identity. Ethnic differentiation has increased over the war years as foreign interventions used ethnicity to create divisions for their own political purposes. As it stands today, the ethnic divide is the greatest it has been for perhaps centuries.

I am Hazara, but this is nothing for me since I am an astronomer. We astronomers believe that ethnicity, language, religion, and other diversity points are spurious. I never try to express my ethnic identity, since Afghans have suffered so much during the war between different armed ethnic groups.

Dating & Marriage

Most Afghans, including me, are married through family relationships. Marriages between cousins are very customary, but in rare cases, a young boy may choose his future half by himself.

At the time of the Taliban, many girls were being kidnapped because they were beautiful.  One of the Taliban even came to my father and asked about one of the neighbor’s girls, saying that he wanted to marry her.  My father immediately informed the family and they escaped to Iran.  I was young during the Taliban, only 8 years old, but I remember everything.  My father was not worried that the Taliban would punish him somehow, because he is a father.  It’s very simple.  He doesn’t want the Taliban to kidnap his daughter or the neighbor’s daughter, so he did his duty as a father.

In Afghanistan, courting is very formal.  You ask for the woman’s hand before you even know her.  I knew people who met their mates when they were five years old. It’s just like me looking in your eyes and you understanding that I love you and you love me.  Simple.  And then it is very secretive.  I wouldn’t talk to you once I had you in my eye. I would ask your neighbor about you, and then I would maybe follow you around for seven days.  I would already know what family you are from and know you because I know your family’s values.

Girls and boys have dreams and are fans of Indian songs and lovers and Bollywood. They love dating, but there are many restrictions. Mostly marriage is arranged, or you choose the girl and ask your family to present a proposal for marriage. Dating sometimes happens among younger generations. They hide from their family because dating is not in Afghan culture and tradition and seems to be a sin. With mobile and Internet technology, young Afghan people have more access to make friendships and start to “blind date.”

Family

Life in Afghanistan is a little different from life in other places. I mean that we have more problems and difficulties in securing every necessity of life, and therefore we spend more time with family.

It is sad that I see the family structure of America tearing apart – at least it seems to me so. People here spend less time together; they’re busy with work; and they don’t even find time to have dinner together. The way we respect our elders is amazing. We take care of them; they live with us; and we have fun with grandparents. They are an important part of our lives.

Growing up in Afghanistan, you couldn’t even smoke a cigarette in your neighborhood, let alone behind your home, without your neighbor telling your family.  If that neighbor saw you, he would beat you up. Then he’d take you home to get beat up by your parents, and you would never smoke another cigarette in your life. As a nation, all Afghans collectively raise each other’s children, as well as their own. That’s why the family has that grip.

Most Afghan families here in America have a hard time with their kids. Over here, you live a hybrid life. One is your culture and religion, and the other is your life as an Afghan-American. You have all of these freedoms, which contradict your religion or culture.  Since you have a tight family that you depend on for emotional support, you can’t share certain things with your family.

 

Perception of the U.S.

In general, Afghans have had positive feelings about Americans. Unfortunately, the problems created by the present war may have changed this image for many.

The majority of Afghans have the perception that U.S. people are not good, as they do not think about their own poor people. They always think about other countries and want to capture them.  This is kind of tied to pride and not much else.

Most Afghans think the U.S.A. is going to be like Russia.  In the future, the U.S. will lose all of its power and the country will be in ruins. However, I think that American people are a hardworking people who love their country. A nation as strong and as proud as America would never have been built otherwise.  I couldn’t tell you what other Afghans think about Americans because this topic is never discussed.

 

Taliban and al-Qaeda

The Taliban and al-Qaeda are a creation of modern geopolitics. They were invented in Pakistan, funded by the Saudis and other Arab fundamentalist groups. They have no historical or sociological roots in our country. Afghanistan, while a devoutly Muslim nation, had never been fundamentally radical, and the clergy had never had political power/military power, until the U.S. decision to support radical Islamists against the Soviet-supported PDPA government during the last years of the Cold War.  These radical groups have effectively led to the destruction of our nation, our culture, and our hopes for any kind of meaningful future. As a result of the thirty-plus years of war, many of our people remain refugees in different countries around the world, while those unable or unwilling to leave continue to be caught in the cross fire of the current war between U.S./NATO and Taliban invasion forces.

My feelings about al-Qaeda are the same feeling that the families of 9/11 victims have.

Al-Qaeda is the most ridiculous and cruel group – worse than the Taliban in the worldwide context. But for Afghans, the Taliban is the worst.  Everyone is frightened. You hope that you will be able to live a day without an incident. The important point is, if the international community leaves Afghanistan, then everything will be devastated.

 

Taliban and AL-QAEDA (cont.)

The Mujahideen were Islamic anti-Soviet fighters trained and supported by the CIA during the 80s and 90s. They were successful in overthrowing the pro-Soviet government in Kabul and forcing the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country. As a collection of different groups, they soon fell into conflict with each other, especially in the city of Kabul. Their inability to establish a unified government led to the coming of the Taliban. This was a group of so-called religious students from the tribal areas of Pakistan, and they were financed, trained, and armed by Pakistan and the Saudis. The intention was to establish a fundamentalist, pro-Pakistani government in the country. The Taliban invasion and six years of barbaric rule created an ongoing civil war in much of the country. Their imposition of strict Islamic law, reflecting the Saudi Wahabi interpretations of Islam, violated human rights, especially the rights of women. The Taliban are also said to have forged close relations with al-Qaeda and Osama.  After 9/11, this relationship led to the U.S. military action against the Taliban regime, forcing their ouster and establishing the current Karzai regime in Kabul. Al-Qaeda is seen by some as a terrorist, radical-Islamist group led by Osama and intent on imposing Islamic rule in the Middle East and other areas with large Muslim populations. Others consider them as primarily a radical and fringe political group using Islam as a means for establishing legitimacy in Islamic lands.

The Taliban are local terrorists, and al-Qaeda are the ones who want to ruin the whole world.  They are not the same organization. I can’t say anything else, but whenever I hear the names of members of the Taliban, I can’t imagine living like a human and still being alive.

Culture

I am a gallery owner in Kabul, the largest gallery outside of the national gallery.  The largest cultural export of Afghanistan to the rest of the world is the carpet.  The carpet industry here is like the automobile industry in first-world countries.  I am a trained diplomat, but I saw all the ‘diplomacy’ and said, “Forget diplomacy.”  I started my own gallery as a way to communicate the depth and richness of Afghan culture and art to the rest of the world and to support Afghans financially—a sort of economic and cultural diplomacy.  I don’t beg for money or tell them sob stories. I represent over 100 artists and craftsmen, and I’ve never gotten any grants to do it. I am doing it from my own money to prove that I can do this and that such things are profitable.  This is very important nowadays.

There are elements of cultural expression that are forbidden and taboo, such as dancing. Music has its own industry, but I am not into it that much. I love music, but it is not highly regarded, so it is better to stay away from it for now. I am going with the flow and participate in what is allowed. We can change culture later.

 

Culture (cont.)

Hospitality is the ultimate equalizer, and that’s how Afghans define themselves culturally.  Even now.  They live through this hardship of war and being tormented with poverty.  Still, when you go to the market, you say hi to the guy who is just a small store owner.  If it’s lunchtime, he has a little plate of potatoes and beans with a piece of naan in front of him.  And he will say, “Come on.  Have some food with me.”  He sincerely wants you to have the food.  That’s a characteristic that’s been there for generations and still exists.  It’s true for Afghans who are here in the west, too, though less so.  If I were to say, “Hey come share some bread with me here in the street,” you might think, “What is wrong with this guy?”  Because of these limitations, because of the culture here, Afghans in America have to hold back a bit.  They can’t be as hospitable.

The area today known as Afghanistan lies at the crossroads for anyone going from East to West or North to South. As a result, our culture has taken many things from many cultures and made them its own. Zoroastrianism originated in the North of our country, and Buddhism found its way from India to China through our nation. At a later date, Islam came through our lands and later spread to India. Our major language, Farsi or Persian, was once the court language of people from Istanbul to Calcutta, and North to the Central-Asian empires coming from Samarqand and Bukhara. Afghanistan was known for its distinct carpet designs, miniature art, ceramic-tile art, and Farsi/Dari poetry. The past thirty-plus years have not been kind to cultural affairs. At present, it is the culture of war, military occupation, drug cultivation and export, and survival economics that defines much of what is “culture.”

 

Food

The main food for our people is bread or “naan.” For a long time, wheat was grown and processed for domestic consumption.  People were self-sufficient in food production and consumption. It has been only through the thirty-plus years of war and destruction that wheat imports have been necessary.  Vegetables are important, especially onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes. Meat is consumed by the more prosperous and is usually lamb, beef, or chicken. Fish is consumed in places close to rivers and streams, but it doesn’t make up a major part of the cuisine.

In my first year in America, I was always complaining about the food. I was shocked that people don’t eat bread. We always have bread and use lots of rice, and the bread here is not flat – it is like cake. I was eating mostly pizza because it is like bread. I love bolani, and we cook it here in America sometimes. I also cook lamb – that’s what people love and always ask me to cook.

I make bolani every weekend for my kids. Oh, it’s so good with potato and a type of vegetable called gandana, like a leek. I have to go to the Chinese grocery to get it here in Pittsburgh.

 

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Additional Resources

Afghan Scene

Afghan Scene is a monthly English-language magazine published by Moby Group (the same media company that owns Tolo TV) aimed at Afghanistan’s growing expatriate community.  The magazine features a wide variety of articles on on the people, culture, and daily life of Afghanistan from both foreign and Afghan perspectives.

CSFilms: The Fruits of our Labors

These short documentaries, produced by Afghans as part of a project by Community Supported Film, offer a range of personal stories and vignettes of life in Afghanistan.  Many of the pieces can be viewed in full on CSF’s Youtube page.

Paiwandgāh

Paiwandgāh, is a social media and mobile technology-based platform that allows Afghans to connect and contribute to the national dialogue about the most important issues facing the nation. (English translations)

Tolo News

Afghanistan’s first 24/7 news channel. They have a very active website which houses articles and videos on news in Dari, Pashto, and English. In depth coverage of the elections can be found here.

Afghan Women’s Writing Project

Started in 2009, the AWWP supports the voices of Afghan women by providing an outlet for their original writings and commentary on Afghan society.  Continually updated with perspectives on crucial current events.

To The Best of Our Knowledge: Afghan Traditions

One-hour radio show on Afghanistan as seen through art, poetry, and games.

Afghanistan Maps

The University of Texas-Austin’s excellent collection of Afghanistan maps, including themed maps on the country’s history, geography, and culture. Also bizarre Dept. of Defense maps from the early days of the invasion.