For weeks I have been planning to celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year, with a series of dinner events that I am producing in both Boston and New York Cit with a dedicated and talented team of collaborators. From experience, locally, I know that Persian cooking is often thrown in the mix with the more currently trendy cuisine of nearby Arab traditions. Persian cuisine is actually quite unique when compared to that of it's neighbors, and we are looking forward to celebrating this culture in all of it's glory, presenting a multi-course journey of traditional regional cooking, centered in Iranian flavors and also exploring the further Persian reaches of Afghanistan and beyond.
This morning I woke up to a piece of reporting in the Guardian about the death of Afghan journalist, Sardar Ahmad, killed last night in Kabul while seated for dinner with his wife and three children, ready to celebrate Nowruz. Shot by teenage gunmen, whom this article reports to be Taliban, he was killed at close range, along with a total of 9 individuals, including his wife and two daughters. Six others were injured but survived, including the journalists son, a toddler.
Shortly after reading this story I was scheduled to give an interview, promoting our series of Persian New Year dinners. As we excitedly relayed to this reporter a brief history of the Nowruz holiday and it's traditions and then explained our approach to take a small group of diners and really lead them by the hand through a journey into Persian cooking, storytelling, and hospitality. To transport these select individuals to a place that is so unexpected. All of this excitement tempered by this recent and violent reminder, that while I will be celebrating, and sharing, and storytelling these next few days... this man, and his family will not.
I wrote to my friend, a talented journalist herself, Anna Badkhen, whose book, Peace Meals, is one of my favorite reads of all time, and whose work I continue to anticipate and enjoy. I wrote to convey my New Year greetings, to remind her about our upcoming festivities, to thank her again for some of her thoughts on the meal and some of the inspiration she provided , and on this unfortunate day, to also express my sorrow at this loss of her colleague.
I count Anna among my good friends, because although we have never met, she has a way with words that never ceases to make me stop and reflect. In more than one notebook, scrawling with notes from my day job, thoughts captured here and there that will one day become actions... in these margins, sometimes I find quotes I've pulled from Anna's books as well as some from personal correspondence between the two of us. Sentences that deserve continued consideration.
This morning was no different, as I received the following in a prompt reply from my friend:
"Thank you for your kind note, your thoughts. Sardar and I have met but I did not know him well. The restaurant, that meal, was an expensive, extravagant even, treat for his family. I imagine it was a dinner as anticipated as your Nawruz meal.
It is devastating to think of the child who survived. It is devastating to think that this is what it takes for us to count ever single father, mother, child..."
And with that I find myself, again, stopping and staring at the letters that form the words and sentences that this dear woman has written to me. And again, I am scrawling notes in pencil in the margins of my page of daily notes. I am filled with memory. Memory of friends I have lost. Some of them having fallen right there in Kabul. Some here at home. I think of my own father, who died unexpectedly, and senselessly, fighting a battle of his own kind. I think of the children that he left behind. I think of how devastating it is each time any child is left behind. No matter the reason, or the place.
This man, this husband and father, died yesterday while celebrating a holiday with money he saved working his treacherous, but important job. He died treating his young family to an experience, embracing their culture, their country, their history. I find myself grieving for Sardar Ahmad, and grieving for other names I have known.
This week, as I set the table for a host of guests, in the restaurant and at our Nowruz celebrations, I cook to their memory. And the memory of everyone we have lost, who we cannot share this new season, this new year with. I pray for peace one day for all the mothers and fathers, and all the families, everywhere. That they may safely look across a beautifully set table, smile at one another, and that I may cook for them a meal as highly anticipated as the one that this family was attempting to enjoy.
Happy New Year, Aideh Shoma Mobarak.
photo credit: Louisa Shafia