Armchair Adv

Afghan stamp
Racing down the stairs of my guesthouse, Najib was already standing in the doorway tapping his watch. The universal gesture to make someone hustle. Our destination was some family’s home for an Eid feast. Eid (“eed”)— the breaking of the month-long Ramadan fast— was the biggest holiday in the Islamic religion. Like Thanksgiving-meets-Christmas, people took off work and school for four days to give thanks, worship, spend time with family, and eat as much as possible.... (read backside)
Raise your words,
not your voice.
which grows flowers,
not thunder.
Flower in the rain
Lighted background
"I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think."
Bird singing
Film strip of rumi quotes
Sufi Dance Party
As an important part of Sufism, Rumi believed that music, poetry and dance was one of the greatest channels for reaching God. Music helped devotees focus their full attention on the divine and had the power to both destroy and resurrect the soul.

Through this, Rumi encouraged Sama— listening to music and turning or doing the sacred dance that represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to God.

Sort of like 13th Century Dead-Heads? Perhaps.

These ideas led to the ritual practice of the “Whirling Dervishes”  where the seekers symbolically turn towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth and arrives at perfection. Afterward, seekers return to consciousness with greater maturity, love, gratitude, and openness to all beliefs, races, classes, and nations.
Driving car in Afghanistan
After 30 days of sun-up to sun-down fasting, no wonder Najib was antsy.

We piled into the car and headed off across the city, but the usual chaos of Kabul streets was slowing us down. With cars, pickup trucks, city buses, bicycles, three-wheeled scooters, motorcycles, minivans, military convoys, and donkey carts coming and going every which way— and traffic signals and speed limits more of a suggestion than a rule— we were going nowhere fast.

Najib was anxiously backseat-driving, directing our driver down sidewalks and back alleys to save time. “We don’t want to miss the sacrifice!”

A chill ran through my body. Whoa. “Sacrifice?” I asked.

“It’s the most important part,” said Najib, going on to explain the Old Testament story of Abraham who was commanded by God to sacrifice his son as a test of faith. Apparently, when Abraham began to follow God's orders, that was good enough for God— who then let him off the hook and commanded him to sacrifice a sheep instead. In Afghan culture, before the traditional mutton feast everyone gathers to bless a sheep, show gratitude, and pray for his soul. Then they off him.

Ugh. Disgusting. Barbaric. I politely nodded along while secretly trying to think up ways to make us late, but my grimace gave me away. “Are you a vegetarian?” he asked.

“Well. No. You see. Uh. Here’s the thing. It’s just that I’ve grown accustomed to food that was already dead and nicely wrapped in plastic so that I didn't have to get personally involved.”

My hypocrisy was not lost on either of us.
Sheep on Kabul street
“So, if you eat animals, how do you show gratitude for their sacrifice?” he asked.

Dang. I squirmed in my seat trying to think of an answer, but We both knew there wasn’t a good one. “Look. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their sacrifice,” I stalled. “but I can’t watch it.  I can’t. Seriously, I almost fainted when I got my ears pierced. I’ll stay in the car.”

Najib dismissed my rationalization and went on to explain that after the sheep was slaughtered, it was divided into three parts. One part was kept by the family for their own feast, the second part was given to neighbors and friends, and the third part was delivered to poor families in the community.

Interesting concept. Every Thanksgiving, an estimated 46 million turkeys were unceremoniously butchered for our American mealtime tradition. I wondered what might happen if we sacrificed a week’s worth of leftovers and Tupperware-jammed refrigerators to donate 1/3 of our meal to a food pantry instead?

Naib continued, “Rumi, the Afghan philosopher and poet once said, ‘Every mortal will taste death, but only some will taste life.’ This sheep is being honored for his life and legacy that will impact so many. Our job is to celebrate that.”

He did make an excellent point.

But still. Eeuw.

Our car finally pulled up outside the family’s house and I took a deep breath. Okay, let’s just do this. I coaxed myself out of the back seat and wrapped my headscarf across my face so that nobody would see my look of terror.
Sorting meat on Eid
We made our way around to the backyard, but as fate would have it, we were too late. The sheep was already in pieces, being divided and bagged. Some guys were getting ready to deliver 1/3 of it to a nearby refugee camp.

The weird paradox was that while the scene was still jarring, I thought I would have felt relieved to have missed the sacrifice. Instead, I felt a twinge of regret— for Najib, for Rumi, and for all the burgers, barbecues, and racks of ribs I’ve eaten without a second thought about honoring anyone’s legacy.

But, seriously. If these animals fed the hungry, bridged communities, and gave hope to the hopeless, wasn’t it more barbaric to not give them a more respected send off?

Food for thought.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (1207-1273), better known as Rumi, was a 13th-century poet, philosopher, and all-around Renaissance man. Born in northern Afghanistan, he wrote some of the world’s most beloved poetry and literature. And as a practicing Sufi— a mystical form of Islam that emphasizes the inward search for God—Rumi believed in tolerance and love, and taught people to embrace all mankind without discrimination against other races, classes, faiths, or nations.

He also believed that music, poetry, and dance was a great way to feel connected to God. Eight-hundred years later, Rumi's teachings continue to bridge national, ethnic and religious borders, and his poems can be heard in churches, synagogues, and Zen monasteries worldwide. People believe that Rumi’s visions, words, and life is proof that people of all religions and backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony.
Depiction of Rumi
The Afghan government even had him commemorated on a postage stamp. Just like other legends ahead of their time.
Rumi on postage stampElvis on postage stamp

Holy Cow: The Collision of Cuisine & Culture

Mcdonalds menu in india
From Big Macs to Whopper Juniors, generations of Americans have been weaned on hamburgers since their first Happy Meal. But in India, juicy, flame-broiled burgers top the taboo list. To the approximately 1 billion Indian Hindus, the cow is more than just a sacred animal— it’s practically family.

From sirloin to sour cream to suede, yogurt, glue and ghee, the generous cow provides so much to make our lives comfortable, yet takes nothing but water, grass, and grain in return. Whether celebrated at festivals, or simply welcomed to stroll through the neighborhood streets without a care in the world, Hindus don’t worship the cow— they honor her like a mother. And honoring her instills the Hindu virtue of ahimsa— non-violence against all life forms.
Historically, the ancient Hindu texts didn’t forbid eating meat, but their regard for ahimsa led many toward a vegetarian lifestyle, as well as food production methods respectful of other life forms. Vegetarianism continued to grow with the rise of Buddhism and Jainism in the sixth century BCE, and while Buddha himself wasn’t a vegetarian (his last meal allegedly contained pork), Buddhist teachings also emphasized ahimsa— another major boost for vegetarianism.
Mahavira, a Jain spiritual leader who believed in complete reverence for all forms of life, brought vegetarianism toward even greater acceptance, and in more contemporary times, social activist Gandhi often compared the practice of vegetarianism and the observance of non-violence.

Today, across India’s religiously pluralistic culture, true vegetarians still only make up less than half the population. But when it comes to cows, most of India’s omnivores abstain from eating beef as well.

Perhaps respect for our mothers is one thing everyone can agree on.
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Map of Aghanistan