Friday, September 15, 2006

Lunch in ANA Land

Yesterday, 9-13-06, I had lunch with my ANA counterpart from the court. The court-martial had concluded – see previous posting – and I was talking with the prosecutor about a different case. I knew that they broke for lunch and noon prayers around…come on, take a guess as to when they break for noon prayers and lunch…You’re rignt – noon. As I’m gathering my stuff up to leave, he asked if my interpreter and me would like to join him at the ANA chow hall. Of course I accepted.

I had heard from several people that the flat bread they eat is quite good so I was looking forward to that. My interpreter explained that the meal would consist of rice, a meat dish, salad and fruit. He was correct. Go figure.

As we entered the chow hall I was surprised to see the tables laden with food. I’m so used to going through a line and having someone serve me that to see it all out on the table was a new experience. You just had to find a place to sit.

Big bowls of soup, plates of rice, stacks of flat bread, platters of grapes and apples, bowls of some yellow substance and bowls of some kind of meat that had been stewed in tomatoes and onions. Oh and a plate of plain yogurt. It actually looked pretty good.

We all started with the soup. My interpreter didn’t know what it was made of. The color reminded me of split pea, but not quite as green. It was also a little runnier than split pea would be. It had vegetables in it and it was actually pretty good.

We then started on the main course – rice and meat. I loaded my plate with the long grain rice. Even plain, the rice was good. I added some of the “yellow” stuff to my plate. I still don’t know what it was and my interpreter didn’t know what the translation was. It did have some lentil beans in it. Whatever it was, it was good. I spooned some meat onto my plate. I forgot to ask what it was. It was probably mutton or goat. When I actually got a piece of real meat, it was good. Unfortunately, I got the plate after most everyone had had a chance at it and I had more than one piece of “meat” that when I bit into it, I decided it was not actually meat. A couple of times, rather than spit it out or even try chewing it, I simply swallowed the “tidbit” whole. The yogurt tasted like plain yogurt. They spoon it on their rice and eat it with the other things. Salad completed the main course. Salad for them are sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions in a vinegar type dressing. Tasty.

The flat bread was sitting in stacks on the table and I think it’s considered rude to actually put it on your plate. I was trying to watch to see what everyone else did and not one person put the bread on their plates. They form the bread like you would a corn/flour tortilla and then place it on the hot baking rack. You can tell which side was hot-side down as it was darker than the top.

I made the mistake of eating with my fork. On my plate there was a large spoon and a fork so I naturally thought the spoon was for the soup and the fork for everything else. As I was eating with my fork, my interpreter whispered that it was rude to use the fork. I quickly put it down and continued eating with my spoon. Apparently they use the fork like a knife, since no knife was provided.

Oh, no napkins. The young soldiers who were sort of acting like waiters, placed large hand towels on the tables. One for every 4-5 men. Those where the napkins. After I watched several men wipe their hands and then pass it on, I decided I’d just wipe my hands on my pants.

For dessert, it was grapes and apples. I’d heard not to eat the fruit as it would have been washed in local water so I decided to pass. They did look delicious though. The men would peel the apples with a knife and then core them. They would then break apart the apple and share the wedges. I really then decided not to eat the apples since they’d been handled by several people before they got to me.

After everyone was done eating, they all made some kind of religious gesture with their hands. It was pretty cool.

I was honored to sit at the General’s table. At the head was the General of the 201st Corps, of which we’re a part. There were the Brigade commanders who are all Generals. The chief judge is a general and I was sitting near him. There were a couple of Colonels, but I think I was the lowest ranking officer at the table. There wasn’t a lot of small talk as I don’t speak Dari or Pashtu and they don’t speak English, but it was still a pleasant experience. Afterwards, the General approached me, shook my hand and said he looked forward to our next meeting. I met him my first day here.

Now that I’ve set up my mentoring schedule that will entail spending the entire day with the court personnel, I may get to eat there at least once a week. I was told to expect the food to react badly with my own internal system, especially the yogurt, but so far, I’m feeling fine. It will be an adventure though.

I thought it would be rude to take pictures of the table so you’ll just have to picture it all in your mind. Maybe next time.

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