A woman collecting her food rations as part of the WFP/DoWA food for literacy project in Ghor
I've caught myself complaining quite a lot lately about the poor quality of the food I can access in Ghor. I was complaining mostly about the failure of my colleagues in HQ to send up the boxes of fruit and vegetables I had been promised. I love to feed my body well, to eat heathily and choose the freshest ingredients so that I can eat raw as much as possible.
In the Ghor market there are often only one or two vegetables available and even those are never fresh, having been transported over bad roads for days to reach our remote location.
While in the USA recently I visited a Whole Foods supermarket and that moment consituted the height of my culture shock on the trip. I stood in the middle of a deli section completely overwhelmed by the abundance and range of food available.
In Ghor I will go into town and come home thrilled if I found some home-made yoghurt or white cheese, so many people sold their livestock during the big drought two seasons ago that very few local families have dairy products to sell.
I am always happy when a colleague or friend comes back from their village because they bring me eggs. Eggs which the local communinty in that village almost certainly need more than I do but which constitute the basic form of protein in my diet.
I struggle to know what is ethical in this situation. I've heard of people living in these kind of remote posts who refuse to have food shipped in. I never heard a full explanation of their argument for this position so I may have missed an important point but my tendency is to the opposite. I'm happy to support the local shop-owners by buying tinned beans and pistachio nuts from him, but for fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products and eggs I feel uncomfortable consuming the local supplies when I know there is already not enough to go around.
This feels like a question to which there is no entirely correct answer, whether I ship food in or buy from the very scant local market I am always going to be massively more privileged than anyone in the local community. On the one hand that is completely unjustifiable - there is no justification for me to have more, to enjoy more, than anyone else here. But on the other hand I want to maintain my health for the long term and this poor diet has had a noticeable impact on my immune system and my general well-being (skin, hair and nails are all showing signs of degradation).
I was overwhelmed with the easy access to good food that I enjoyed in my two week holiday in the States. Even here in Kabul, if you have the money you can get hold of pretty much anything you want (in Kabul I recently ate imported French cheese with a friend who had got it at one of the stores targetting the international workers in the city).
In Ghor we are still struggling to get in place the 14000 metric tonnes of food aid which it has been calculated will be required to get the population through the winter without too many casualties. The security problems on the southern ring road (which passes through Kandahar, Helmand and Farah) have been causing endless hold-ups and several serious losses.
In the face of that scale of suffering how can I possibly complain about not getting my box of fruit and vegetables this week? Or feel a pang of envy when I read about a dear friend's morning juice recipe, knowing how much good a juice like that will be doing her and what good it would do my tired innards as well.
One of the reasons for living a life which takes me into spaces like Ghor where I might never otherwise get to go - a life which brings me face to face with the true living situation of most people on our planet is exactly this - to remind me always that I did not earn the incredible privilege into which I was born. To remind me that we are all connected and that the suffering of staving families in Ghor is, whether we like it or not, connected to the over-stocked supermarkets in the West.
It is not an comfortable truth and not one that I like to wave in people's faces - for fear that I will simply induce guilt - an emotion I believe is unlikely to inspire productive response for change. But it is true and it makes me stop myself in my tracks when I start (again) to complain about the poor food available to me.
Still - it is fair enough for me to want to take care of my long term health and the serious negative physical impacts of life in Afghanistan (lung infections all over the place from the pollution and dust, loss of bone density due to the restrictions on all forms of walking and malnutrition from the poor food availability and quality) are also a good reason to go home after two years and take a healing, recuperative break.