Directly next to the police station is a small Afghan National Army post. I walk through it frequently. One day, I was headed back to the house, and I heard, “Bahaaaahaaaahbaaaah.”
I looked over and saw a large goat/sheep/dunno-what-it-was tied up in front of the barracks. I remember thinking, “You must be dinner.”
The next day, the goat was gone. I assumed that my suspicions had been correct.
Later that night, a soldier that works at the police station invited me to dinner. During our training, we had it drilled into us that if an Afghan offers you his hospitality, it is an insult not to accept. So I went with him. As we walked downstairs I realized that I hadn’t had a chance to enlist the aid of a turjimon for this experience, so we were just going to have to jump the language barrier without help.
We walked to a small room that was shared by four men, and me and the soldier sat on the floor and waited for the food to be brought. Since we couldn’t directly speak, we passed the time by teaching me Pashto. “Calina,” is the word for carpet. “Ghelass,” is the word for glass. “Ohbah,” the word for water. After about 15 minutes of sitting on the floor cross-legged, the food arrived.
A plastic mat was folded onto the floor, and a pan of some type of milk placed in the center. Then we were each handed a metal bowl with chucks of meat and potatoes inside some orange-colored sauce. A large piece of “naan” bread followed, to be used as silverware. My host offered me American-style silverware, but in an effort to respect their culture and to not appear as if I needed special consideration, and thus less manly, I did what they did. I ate with my hands.
The meat was tender and the sauce was flavorful. It was close enough to beef that I didn’t question it’s origin until later. The naan help me pick up what my fingers couldn’t get. About ten minutes into the meal, my buddy offered me a “ghelass” of the milk. Knowing that it probably wasn’t pasteurized, I still accepted, and instantly took a sip. And instantly regretted it. It tasted like half & half with SweeTarts mixed in.
Clue #1: That was not cow’s milk.
We continued to eat, mostly in silence(by now a second Afghan had joined us), and when we did talk, it was to trade languages. In my last piece of meat, there was a bone. I sat it to the side.
Clue #2: That bone is not big enough to have come from a cow.
More “conversation” followed, and more Afghans arrived every few minutes to get a glimpse of the American that had come downstairs for dinner. By the time “chai” was served, the room held six Afghans, the turjimon had arrived, and me. There were several squadrons of gnats dogfighting a formation of flies in the room. We talked about religion. We talked about politics. We talked about our families. We talked about more or less the same things we talk about in America, though I had to be careful about it. I had to never ask directly about their wives, but instead inquired of their entire families. I had to make sure that the soles of my boots never pointed at one of them. Rather, I sat cross-legged until it became painful, and kept sitting that way until my legs went numb. I made sure to gesticulate with only my right hand.
All in all, by the time I made my excuses and went back upstairs(about 90 minutes), I was stuffed to the gills with food, and had to pee from all the chai. A very culturally enlightening experience, and the goat wasn’t half bad…