99p spent on Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni will bring hours of reading pleasure as you journey through Afghanistan becoming caught up in the day-to-day lives of women like Sharifa, Latifa and Marzia, sharing their problems, dramas, the tears and the laughter: whether enjoying a good gossip over tea and fresh nan, dealing with a husband’s desertion or battling to save the life of a one-year-old opium addict. You can buy the book here.
The short excerpt below is from the journey and arrival at the clinic where I spent the following months establish a health volunteer programme with village women.
“The dramatic, rugged mountains of the Hindu Kush formed a constantly changing backdrop – their kaleidoscopic colours varying from slate grey through earthy brown to rosy pink – as we travelled towards Bamiyan, the capital of Hazara Jat. This small, nondescript town and its surrounding areas, is steeped in history. Once, it was part of the ancient silk road, covering the route that led between Balkh and Tashkurghan, to Taxila, far away in Pakistan’s province of Punjab. Caravans laden with luxuries stopped to rest in Bamiyan’s fertile valley before continuing their arduous journeys.
We arrived at the clinic shortly before dusk on the fourth day of travelling. … It was utter bliss to stretch out after dinner, glass of tea in hand, relishing the fact that I would not, at four o’clock next morning, have to clamber, bleary eyed, into my corner of the jeep for another bone shaking twelve hour journey. The prospect of being able to sleep for as long as I wanted next morning was wonderful. I had forgotten that two year olds have much more efficient recuperative powers, and next morning David, thoroughly refreshed and ready for action, woke at dawn. Excited about seeing cows and calves, sheep, goats and donkeys – all within reach – he couldn’t wait to be out exploring his new world.
Iqbal’s clinic was a small, dilapidated building on the edge of the village. The mud walls were a foot and a half thick, while the flat roof was constructed of straight, poplar tree trunks, interwoven with branches, topped by several layers of mud. The tiny windows were designed more for keeping out the bitter cold in winter, than for allowing in light. A large room where we gathered to eat, drink tea and entertain guests doubled as sleeping quarters for the staff – driver Abdul Ali, cook Ibrahim, field assistant Hassan, and Iqbal.
After a few days, I stopped reaching for a light switch when it grew dark, waiting instead for someone to light the pressure lamp, known as the gaz. To my shame, I never learned the knack of lighting these temperamental things and I was useless at keeping them alight when the pressure began to fall. If the light dimmed, furious pumping was required to raise the pressure, followed by some mysterious twiddling of a red knob. Whenever pushed, by necessity, to attempt any of this myself, I invariably plunged the room into darkness, or set the entire contraption alight.
In time, too, I remembered the pit latrine, a hundred yards from the clinic, had no flush. It had no door, either. A curtain made of old sackcloth – full of holes – suspended over the entrance gave only the illusion of privacy. The occupier was expected to cough loudly at the approach of another party.
When I was in occupation, no amount of coughing prevented women – who, amongst themselves, had none of the men’s sense of modesty – from joining me. Many a medical consultation was conducted while I squatted, flushed with embarrassment, over the hole.
‘Go and see Dr. Iqbal,’ I’d plead, but in vain. The women who followed me to the loo did so because they were too shy to mention gynaecological problems to a man. They would be clutching little packets of paracetamol, prescribed because, overcome by horror at discussing such personal matters, they had instead complained to Iqbal of headaches.”
And if you are wondering about those drunk chickens – well, you can find out by buying the book here.