Memories of food and sickness

I have a memory fragment of a dinner. I don’t know where or why but there are both Afghans and foreigners around the big table. In the middle is served big plates of rice cooked in saffron mixed with shredded carrots and raisins. And there was hot pepper soup, the kind so spicy hot your eyes water, and me amusing the group by enjoying a full bowl of it.

I remember going to the baker to buy Nan bread. Seeing the oven in the form of a small hut, how the baker flattened the dough on a floured cushion and then another baker, with his turban wrapped around his head and face against the heat, mounted the dough to the ceiling of the hot oven and pulling out the already baked bread. Thinking back I’m impressed by the heat tolerance of that guy, having half his body inside a hot oven in and out all day.

I also remember eating huge water melons. Well, those memories might actually have been boosted with images from our photo album. I can’t really be sure on them, but it feels like I have recollections of melon slices that needed both hands to handle.

As we were rich foreigners we had servants. Only one at the time but I think we went through three servants during our stay. Not that we really needed them but we were expected to have servants. It was seen as greedy not to employ a servant if you had the money to do so.

I called all the servants “Kalle” and as they succeeded one another, they were numbered so our second employed servant became “Kalle du” as for two in Farsi[1]. I believe he stayed the longest with us. I have a fragmented memory of our family visiting his family outside his small house built of mud and straw as most Afghan houses.

“Kalle du” helped out by translating to my mom in the market and finding good groceries. Even in Afghanistan there were frauds. One trick was to inject water into fruit like oranges to make them seem extra juicy, but the water was taken from the river, commonly used both to wash laundry and as a toilet, so there was a serious health risk to eat those. He also helped out watering in the garden and sewing curtains from beautiful fabrics my mom bought on the market.
Inspired by the trips to the market I used to play street vendor, walking around with a pillow on my head shouting in Farsi, or at least something that sounded like Farsi, to sell my imaginary goods, to everyone’s entertainment. In particular “Kalle du” that used to laugh when I did my routine. I liked him and I believe he liked me, thinking I was a funny kid.

One day he bought me a lollipop from a candy vendor passing on the street. It was shaped as a big colourful rooster. I ran exited in to my mother to show this wonderful gift when she terrified grabbed it from me and poured boiling water over it until it collapsed into a malformed lump.

I can understand my mother. Hygiene wasn’t a priority here and after spending the first weeks in the country vomiting to the limit my parents feared for my life, they actually planned to give up and return home when I suddenly recovered, she was not prepared to take any more risks.

Memory flash: A trail of vomit puddles on the floor while I’m hanging out from the arms of my father carrying me.

But I clearly remember the emotional rollercoaster from happy excitement to deepest despair as I saw the lollipop melt.

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A memory in colours

Something that remains clear and vivid in my mind is the colours. Quite different from the colours of Sweden where the palette varies by the seasons from deep green, deep blue, red, white and pale yellow in summer, to a scale of grey, grey blue and white in winter.
Afghanistan has a palette of sandy yellow, turquoise blue, dusty olive green and terracotta red.

This is a beautiful and dramatic country. A land crossed by rivers and streams but, as if the sand and rock repels the water, not giving the opportunity for lush vegetation to thrive.

I’ve always imagined the bright turquoise blue colours of the waters have an origin in the national gemstone of Afghanistan, the Lapis Lazuli. Grinded in to silt and stirred around in the stream, colouring the water. That of course is a purely romantic fantasy, every one knows the water gets it colour from the reflected sky and anyway, imagine the amount of Lapis Lazuli needed to tint all the waters. It would not be as expensive as it is if those amounts really existed.

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