Last night my husband and I watched Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, (highly recommended by the way). In a nutshell, It’s about a western woman, journalist Kim Barker portrayed by the hilarious Tina Fey, who travels to Afghanistan. This got me thinking of another western woman, Author Mary Smith, and her travels to Afghanistan. So, today, I am shining the spotlight on her!
Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She longed to allow others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.
Mary has written several books, but perhaps my favorite is Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni.
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni offers a remarkable insight into the lives of Afghan women both before and after Taliban’s rise to power. The reader is 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, battling to save the life of a one-year-old opium addict or learning how to deliver babies safely.
Mary Smith spent several years in Afghanistan working on a health project for women and children in both remote rural areas and in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Given the opportunity to participate more fully than most other foreigners in the lives of the women, many of whom became close friends, she has been able to present this unique portrayal of Afghan women – a portrayal very different from the one most often presented by the media.
Here are the book details:
Genre: Women’s Studies, War & Politics, Cultural Studies, Non-Fiction, Travel
What’s It About?
Author Mary Smith traveled to Afghanistan with her husband and son, to open a healthcare clinic, and train and recruit female volunteers. What she wasn’t expecting, was to meet women who were so far different from what is portrayed in the media.
“I had to accept that all I ‘knew’ and ‘understood’ about women in Afghanistan had been based on much too narrow a field of contact.”
The media is centrally focused on men and their war, neglecting to report on the day to day lives of Afghans, which of course contributes to western stereotypes of how Afghans live. Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni is about real Afghan women, and their thoughts and opinions.
Mary Smith travels to different cities, on rough, dangerous streets, at one point having a rocket launcher pointed at her, all in the name of saving children’s lives and educating women on healthcare issues. Afghanistan was made better by Mary’s visits, as the babies are healthier and stronger, and common folk remedies, (such as fasting) are dismissed for more suitable treatments to illnesses, such as rehydration for diarrhea. As the women volunteers accept their certificates, they gain not only improved self esteem, but the respect from their husbands and their community.
“There are children alive today because of our work.”
Mary hoped to learn, from the women themselves, what life was really like for Afghan women. She learned all that and more, as they accepted her as one of their own, and became great friends.
I am in such awe of Author Mary Smith. My respect of her has grown triple-fold, and I can honestly say that she is my hero.
I enjoyed this book for two reasons: 1) I have a strong interest in women’s studies, and 2.) I have a strong interest in the healthcare field. This book satisfied two of my curiosities.
Often, Mary recalls events in humor, and while I wasn’t expecting to be laughing out loud over a book about Afghanistan, I was.
“Icy winds had swept across the plains to pierce our many layers of clothing. Everyone was so well padded it looked like the city had been taken over by Michelin Men.”
So, that was certainly a nice surprise.
I also learned about Afghan cooking and cuisine. I think I would lose a lot of weight… Surviving off of tea and naan, (flat bread), eggs, mulberries, and melon (when in season) would not be very satisfying. And if I was “lucky”, goat, tough chicken and, get ready for this… sheep head!
What I found most amusing about Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni, was the extra-marital sexual freedom her translator, Iqbal, describes. For starters, sex is a taboo subject, and if caught having an extra-marital affair, the woman could be, at the very least, given a 100 lashes, and at the most, stoned to death. It is amazing to me that anyone would risk having sex, let alone extra-marital, with rules like that. I was equally as confused and shocked, as Mary was, to learn that a married woman would dare flirt with another man, with the consequences mentioned above.
Also, Iqbal tells Mary, that he believed that western women were very loose, parading men in and out of their bedrooms all day, (thanks to western TV shows, and magazines for that notion). The sexual stereotypes of different cultures were certainly amusing to me. I got a good laugh at that one, especially when Mary asked him if he believed that of her, and he said, “No, you’re old!” –Mind you, she was 39!!!!
Plus, Mary had to teach the women about gynecological issues, with a less than helpful, prudish, conversational Dari language teacher. I laughed at the ways Mary came up with her own way, and words to teach the women these issues.
I also enjoyed learning about the lives of Afghan women, and how it varied depending on what city you lived in. In the cities, the women are more “free” and are out and about on the streets, highly visible, and working alongside men. In more rural areas of Afghanistan, women are treated like donkeys, barely able to look you in the eye because of the way they have been conditioned.
“One day, life will be different for women in Afghanistan, but it will never be the same as in your country. We have to find our own way.”
Mary’s heroic work takes a backseat to the lives of Afghan women in Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni. She is very humble about her achievements, instead choosing to focus on the women she met. Mary discusses life in Afghanistan, both before, during, and after the Taliban regime, and the effect the Taliban had on the cities and people, specifically women. Any reader who is interested in women’s studies, healthcare, or afghan culture can benefit from reading this book. I minored in women’s studies at the University of CT, and I strongly believe that this book should be REQUIRED READING for a college level women’s studies class. I know I am smarter because of reading Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni.
Books By Mary Smith
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