Friday, March 23, 2007

Too many women in the kitchen

I cried the first time I cooked Afghan food by myself. I cooked for one friend and it was a failure.

As I carefully stuffed the potato and leek mixture, inadequately seasoned, and folded the egg roll wrapper – I cried. I was angry and sad – the dingy blue kitchen was too empty. It was mine, and I was proud of it, but it wasn’t enough.

The one person beside me wasn’t enough. Neither was the rat that would appear only to me. His name was Snuffleupagus, but that’s another story.

My parents were upset and I was in my first apartment. I was blindly reeling and rolling into a lonely future, fighting for freedom, feeling desperately claustrophobic with my huge family, aunts and uncles calling every moment of the day, trying to get me to come home, just come home.

I wanted freedom but damn, it was lonely.

I thought then that Afghan food should be cooked the way it is eaten. With too many people in the kitchen, too many people in the house, enough food for everyone and probably enough to take home. Laughter, screaming children and perhaps some gossip and criticism. Too many women in the kitchen, pushing and poking, mentally judging the hostess’ food. A few children at the table, stacking the plates with forks, spoons and napkins, pouring coke into plastic cups. Too much noise, not enough help and depending on the family, too many lazy men sitting in the corner (Not mine though).

In my lonely little kitchen, I cooked and attempted to fry the bolani. The bolani fell apart as I fried it, stuck to the bottom of the pan. I over-salted the yogurt, meant as a dipping sauce.

It was nasty and I was heart-broken. These two lives just wouldn’t mesh. My yellow and brown afghan kitchen and my blue american kitchen. True to my melodramatic ways, I thought it was the end, seeing this lonely little kitchen as my future.

Sometimes I’m a bit too dramatic.

My parents calmed down. It took a while but they did. They made peace with my having my own kitchen. While they were calming down, my mom cooked food for me. She often left it at the door of the apartment, rarely coming in. I wonder what she thought, cooking for me in her kitchen. I know she was angry with me, but the food, elaborate dishes, more than I could possibly finish, what did she want to say?

I calmed down too. I found my way back into the family, I guess I never really left. I learned how to cook from my mom. I called her often while in my kitchen in DC. Why is the ‘aush’ green?! Too much cilantro, don’t worry. Why is the bolani sticking? Get a better pan.

It’s been years since that first attempt. I’ve cooked for myself and cooked for others. I’ve learned how to cook on my own, smaller portions when necessary, larger when my family comes over. I’ve moved out on my own, moved back in, moved out again but back into the family apartment in Kabul and then moved back in with my parents again. Back and forth, back and forth.

I’m still getting used to new kitchens, and sometimes I’m upset that I didn’t just stick to one kitchen, but oh well.

I like to cook, even in Kabul though my servants often kick me out of the kitchen. The lack of utensils in Kabul is bewildering, that and I don’t know where anything is. Nor can I buy egg roll wrappers for the bolani. Who knew they made the dough themselves? I like to sit in others’ kitchens in Kabul, knowing that if they let you hang out there – you really are family. Chatting and laughing, taste testing, washing dishes when necessary. Even if it’s just two people, it’s still fun.

I like to have people over for dinner, welcoming them, forcing them to take food home. There is so much love in cooking, so much worry; will the food come out okay? Will I make anyone sick? Too much salt? Too little? The kitchen is where I mentally assess each guest; will they eat this? Are they vegetarians, do they only eat halal? Will I have enough food? Will they think I didn’t cook enough? Will they know that I tried my best? That I want them to feel welcome?

I’ve made peace with the kitchens in my life; the warmth and the heat come, no matter the size. I’ve made peace with my need for solitude and my need for my family. They’re meshing. I think my parents and their generation have made peace with us, this generation who are so achingly different yet familiar, new versions of their own mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

We’re often in the kitchen together these days. My mother, aunts, cousins and myself, grumbling why the younger generation won’t stack plates and pour soda (why am I, at 29, still doing it?!).

Then we’re done cooking and we send one out of the kitchen and into the living room to say, “Naan tayar ast (The food is ready).”

For more Sunday Scribbles

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

hay lucky you

pfr said...

beautiful. you almost made me cry at work.

khambagirl said...

I love your descriptions of the Kabul Kitchen, with all the people, laughter and screaming. I know what that is like! Thank you for the glimpse into your life.

Autrice DelDrago said...

A very poignant post. All too often, the food tastes better simply because we have shared the chore of preparing it with friends and family.

Bongga Mom said...

I liked your post and all the memories that go into your cooking.

Miss Iyer said...

Lovely description of your Kabul Kitchen. I guess you took baby steps in your cooking lessons too, just as I did :)

Frida said...

Wow, you can really write! I hereby decree that you should keep copies of these posts (the kissing one was amazing as well) because I can't help it, I see a book of essays here.
Through these two prompts you've led us into an intimate, honest and really vivid picture of the complexity of being you - Afghan-American, at home in DC, at home in Kabul, smart, honest, funny and brave.
xx

Karen Travels said...

I am 29 too, and I too have found cooking to be quite an adventure. I am not as brave as you though...I am still cooking mac and cheese and that I about it.

Great post...your writing makes me feel like I am there with you.

gautami tripathy said...

You give us glimpses of Afganistan.

I read Zoya's Story sometime back...


gautami
Cook up a tale

Regina Clare Jane said...

What a wonderful post! I really felt the push me, pull you type of life you must have... I think I would be the same. Somehow it's never the same when you are making food for yourself- food needs to be shared!
Thank you for sharing this story with us!

omg said...

Wonderful, friend. I can totally picture you in your kitchen, forcing people to take leftovers home. That's one of the things we love about you, of course. Particularly liked the comment about the new youth not doing what you did as a youth. I have the same problem in my family. Why have I been doing the dishes since I was twelve? Why aren't the ones who should replace me replacing me? Also, your mommy brought you food. *tears up*

Great job with the prompt. I would write one as well, but I've been writing kitchen-related items for a week now. :P

paris parfait said...

Very interesting tales about making food and the social and family connections associated with the food and the kitchen.

Anonymous said...

It was only last week one morning I was describing to my husband your mother's cooking (no kidding, being food-crazy, good food does make my dreams.) On the occassional invite over when I was a kid I just remember how shamed I felt that I would betray Jamaican rice and peas in a heartbeat for your mother's rice. And all these wonderful spices that still can't be recreated outside your mother's kitchen for me. Knowing you've cultivated the art and learned how to recreate such goodness makes me so happy for you. The tradition passes down, even if the youth seem out of sync at times. Beautiful post. I hope your mother reads it.
~Hmama

K-Oh said...

What a delightful post! Here I am, still working at 10 pm on a Saturday night-- and this made me smile. I live too far away from my family and I miss all that cooking chaos.

Mardougrrl said...

Beautiful post! And see how internatiional this idea of the kitchen...your story made me miss my Latino family! :)

I agree with Frida...this was GORGEOUS writing.

boliyou said...

I love the descriptions of your kitchen experiences. What a great post!

Jennifer said...

I don't think I could handle that many people in the kitchen...lol Your post was great! I felt like I was in the kitchen with you. Thanks for sharing!

Van said...

I got great "visuals" of your Kabul kitchen. Gotta love it!

About Kabul, you wrote, "How did she write such a true book and she's not Afghan?" Because she spent many, many hours interviewing a boyhood friend of mine. The story is true -- except for certain details that have been changed to protect his privacy.

GreenishLady said...

That is such a wonderful post! I can see/hear/smell all these kitchens you speak of. I love to witness the facility so many middle-eastern friends have for working together in a kitchen. It's like watching an intricate dance, but it makes me feel like I have two left feet. For the unitiated, finding your place in that isn't easy. Your piece flowed beautifully. Thank you.

homeinkabul said...

Wow y'all, thank you for the kind comments. I wasn't very happy with this piece but thought it would be a good jumpstart to re-connecting with the blog...so thanks again!

A: Yes, indeed, lucky me (shukur)

PFR: You sure you aren't crying b/c of work? ;)

Khamba, autrice, Bongga, Miss Iyer: Thank you for your kind comments.

Frida: You're making me blush. Thank you

KT: I love mac n cheese...and bolani is easy - seriously. I can't make the more elaborate dishes

GT: I haven't heard of Zoya's story, did you like it?

RC: Thank you for reading!

OMG: Girl, you've had me rolling all week with your posts.

Paris: Thank you for joining me

H Mama: And here I was just thinking about your husband's cooking and my all time favorite, stew with dumplings.

K: Nice to hear from you - welcome. :)

Mgrrl: Thank you for joining me. Now, I wonder what specifically about those 2 posts make them special. I definitely enjoyed writing them.

Boliyou & Jennifer: Thank you for the compliments. I always am grumpy when they are actually in the kitchen. But if they're not, I get grumpy again.

Van: Seriously? Thanks for the compliment and the info, I have always wondered...

G lady: Oh, I still have 2 left feet, compared to the older generation...

Shannon said...

that was such a wonderful post. thank you for sharing. i miss you, friend - hopefully, one of these days we will get to reconnect sometime in person.

Van said...

Yes, I'm serious about Kabul. Ask K-Oh for the story.

Kimberley McGill said...

What a beautiful and well written post. It has been a pleasure to read - thank you for letting us walk inside your memories with you.

Iron Lion said...

Hey, if you see the rat again just tell me. I will take care of it. Just like I took care of propecia :)

AnnieElf said...

A fascinating glimpse into a very female world.

Lawrence of Arabia said...

if that is a "sunday scribble" i am dying to see what you come up with when you are really trying to write something.

you evoked the feelings of being torn between freedom and family very well.

best wishes,
good to see you writing again,
LoA.

homeinkabul said...

Shannon: HEY GIRL! I miss you so much. I hope we get to see each other soon also...

Van: This explains SO MUCH...I will start pestering K-Oh for details. Sarah, Tor and Mangal really could be my relatives...or at least in my extended family.

KM: Thank you for coming with me.

IL: I had forgotten about Propecia and your rat scaring skills.

Annie: Thank you.

LoA: You're very kind, thank you. I'm actually considering writing more, it's a frightening experience.

Van said...

Tor is also somewhat 'connected' to PARSA. Oh, the mystery of it all...

homeinkabul said...

Van: You, my friend, are a TEASE. Torture, this is pure torture. ;)

Van said...

...and Tor's family home in Kabul is just a stone's throw away from MMCC -- from where he rode his horse out past Darulaman Palace so many years ago.

homeinkabul2 said...

Hmm, i am compiling these hints in the hopes that I can figure out who it is. Is the entire story the truth?

homeinkabul2 said...

YAY FOR HINTS FROM VAN!! I am getting closer...

homeinkabul2 said...

Van! He passed away? I hope not but if it's who I think it is...

Van said...

I haven't talked with "Tor" recently, but he was feisty as ever at a picnic late last year at Band-i-Qargha. K-Oh wants to meet him when we are in Kabul this June; sure hope I don't disappoint her as he often is in Gazni.

Mimi most likely embellished parts of the story and minor details have been changed to protect the family's privacy, but the "meat" of the story, I believe, is essentially true.

Ba Kabul-jan, Ba Kabul-jan, Ba Kabul-jan, Salaam Afghanistan...

homeinkabul2 said...

Oh good, I'm glad that he's ok. I guessed the wrong person...

Tarous said...

You are still stacking plates and pouring soda at 29 because part of you wishes to still be that younger generation. Maybe that's just me projecting, but I have a funny feeling I'm partially right.

Paraphrase: Afghan food should be prepared the same way it is eaten....etc...

Damn. That part is the most beautiful thing written about Afghan home cooking that I have read in my entire life. I was thoroughly impressed by the kissing post, this one got me just as bad. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

I remember the first time I tried to cook Pallow outside of my house. I had done it succesfully before, but in my own house with all of my mom's utensils and ingredients. Cooking at home for me presented its own set of unique problems because my stepdad kept on rudely insisting that my place is not in the kitchen.

Anyway,

I was cooking for an ex of mine, and instead of Pallow it became Shola (Too much water), and the meat was chewy like rubber. I remember thinking to myself "But I have done this by myself before!?!"
What happened?

Perhaps there was just not enough people in the kitchen.

P.S.

Your mom reminds me of my mom

homeinkabul said...

T: Alas, you're wrong. It really is b/c they're lazy. I'd much rather do the cooking and let them do the plate stacking or even better, I'd like to sit at the grown-up table, chatting and drinking tea.

Thank you for the compliments, I really do appreciate it. You're very kind.

Perhaps we should do a collection of stories, the first time I cooked by myself...I've had my pallow turn into sholla entirely too many times.

Aren't all Afghan mothers similar to some extent? :)

Tarous said...

I'm down, but lets make it bigger than just you and me. An anthology, if you will. I know some Afghan writers who could contribute and I'm sure you do as well. I might have to twist a few arms in order to get entries but leave that to me. All we need to do is come up with a meaningful and catchy name for the book and collect entries. Lets do this.

homeinkabul said...

Tarous: send me an email at homeinkabul at g m a i l dot com to discuss this. i have another idea as well...

Tarous said...

Ok, I sent you an e-mail