We are loving the weather here in Maryland. Kids are finally settled into a routine, soccer and basketball games are back on, and we are fully in the weekend game shuffle. While things are insanely busy, we are thankful for some semblance of normalcy and the opportunity to safely engage with our communities. One of my favorite things about working on Atlas Book Club is that books provide a small window into how people all over the world engage with their community. What do their weekends look like? Do they play sports? What is being served at Sunday dinner? As we explore Afghanistan this month at Atlas, I found myself reflecting on what the Afghan community, back in Afghanistan and all over the world, are going through during this time. What do gathering and community look like for them?
The beauty of exploring cultures different from our own is the discovery and appreciation of aspects of that culture that we do not typically see in movies or in the news. Afghanistan has been in the news in the past few months, and on and off for years for its political unrest and civilian trauma. But there is so much more to this beautiful country and culture that most know.
For example, did you know that one of the most beautiful lakes in the world can be found in the heart of Afghanistan in the Band-e-Amir Park? In this park are a chain of six incredible deep blue lakes nestled amidst pink limestone canyons in the mountainous desert of central Afghanistan. These lakes have intense colors that range from turquoise to a deep blue making for a beautiful contrast against the sky and the surrounding landscape. While this park used to be a tourist attraction that brought in thousands of tourists every year, the current situation of the country has made that challenging. However, you can get a sense of this gorgeous park from numerous online videos. Check this one out!
Let’s Talk About The Food!
And of course, we cannot talk about culture without mentioning the delicious foods! Afghanistan was at the center of central Asian trade for years. This led to the development of cuisine that is complex and influenced by various other countries. Some staple Afghan dishes include Ashak Dumplings, which are leek and scallion stuffed dumplings; Mantu, which is similar to Chinese dim sum; and Borani Bajan – fried eggplant dressed in tomato sauce and mint, reminiscent of eggplant parmesan! These influences show that Afghan cuisine is much more complex than the stereotypical rice and kebabs.
Afghans traditionally eat on the floor gathered around large colorful cushions, called “toshak”. These cushions are normally placed on the beautiful carpets, a disterkhan (table cloth) is spread over the floor or carpet before the dishes of food are brought. Food is usually shared communally with three or four people sharing one large platter of rice and individual side dishes of stew (qorma) or vegetables. Because food is typically eaten with their hands, there is usually a hand washing ceremony before and after meals, a tradition common in other Asian and African countries. Another reminder that we are more alike than we are different!
When we made the decision to explore Afghanistan this month at Atlas Book Club, we wanted to focus on shattering the single-story narratives by choosing different types of Afghan stories. We also wanted to provide some context for the kiddos reading these books so that they have an awareness of what is going on in that part of the world. Imagine being able to have an intelligent conversation about a current news topic with your kids because they now have some context and knowledge of the country’s history and culture! This is the balance we aimed for with our book selections, educational materials, and social media content, and I believe we have succeeded in that goal. Join us on our monthly journeys of exploration and discovery at www.atlasbookclub.com.
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