Unlike Baghdad, Kabul has abundant fresh produced available to the expatriate cook, although certain items are still hard to come by. Here a street vendor adjusts his stock.
Unlike Baghdad, Kabul has abundant fresh produced available to the expatriate cook, although certain items are still hard to come by. Here a street vendor adjusts his stock.

Conflict cookery



Crossing Mogadishu at 35,000 feet, I am seated next to my husband in the exit row of Emirates flight 763 from Dubai to Johannesburg on our rest and recreation trip home to South Africa. The film Julie & Julia, about the American cook and sweetheart Julia Child and her modern-day protégé, Julie Powell, plays silently on my screen. Meanwhile, my husband watches the first scene of The Hurt Locker about a bomb disposal squad in Baghdad. I can't help but notice the dichotomy of what has become our life: food and war.

Apart from the correlation with my being a thirtysomething female with a passion for food and a love of writing, what makes Julie & Julia resonate with me is the added dimension of a relationship between two people profoundly in love with one another, and with food. What makes our particular story unique, though, is choice of locales. Ten years ago, our culinary crusade started in a California beach-side town. Since then, the love of my life and I have baked our way through Baghdad and, most recently, cooked our way through three years in Kabul. As humanitarian aid workers, we are foodies in a war zone.

I suppose this raises the question: how do a middle-class child from South Africa who grew up with maids making everything from oatmeal to lunch boxes to home-cooked meals, and a California kid with a health nut for a mother end up falling in love with cooking? Simple: it was out of necessity. Living on a single income in an expensive American city challenged by exorbitant rents and student loan payments did not leave a lot of disposable income to partake in the culinary offerings of the City of Angels. Enter the problem: we both love good food. So what is a young, hungry couple to do but learn to cook.

We deliberated and finally agreed that the annual subscription to a popular cooking magazine, Cooking Light, was worth the investment, in part because we could both pronounce and afford (most) of the ingredients in its recipes, unlike those of its more gourmet cousins. Despite a kitchen so small one of us had to leave the room to allow the refrigerator to open, so began our path to pastries, poaching and most importantly participating in something we both love: good food.

Fast-forward seven years to Baghdad, 2006. Not a good year for the war on terror as car bombs and kidnappings in the Iraqi capital rocketed. We had arrived to take up our positions with the US Agency for International Development (Usaid) on one-year assignments. I had recently completed graduate school, and Chris had returned after an initial six-month stint in Iraq with the US Army Corps of Engineers. We were armed with enough enthusiasm and determination to join the cause to change the world (or so we thought). Based in the Green Zone (later renamed the International Zone or "IZ"), we lived in a compound with around 120 expatriate colleagues.

Living conditions were highly restricted, with no access to the outside without prior approval of the regional security officer and then only for official business. This meant that everything happened "on campus", from working, living and laundry to going to the gym and, yes, dining in a cafeteria. Usaid staff were fortunate in that we were spared being housed in "hooches" (caravans) like many of our colleagues in other agencies, instead living in small, concrete structures consisting of a bedroom, bathroom, small kitchen and living room.

Tired of cafeteria food and exhausted by campus life, it was to this small kitchen that Chris and I retreated and eventually reignited our passion for cooking. With limited access to fresh produce, we learnt to use the cafeteria as our own fruit and veg stand. Tupperware in hand, we raided the salad bar nightly for chopped onions, tomatoes, green pepper and the odd mushroom to cook up and serve with organic pasta and other grains ordered online from Netgrocer and igourmet.com as delivered via the army postal service (one of the perks of working for the US government).

What we could not find in the cafeteria or in the limited produce available in the IZ, or get through our local colleagues, care packages from friends and family or online shopping, we simply learnt to do without. While identical to others, our "villa" became a respite for lonely friends far from family and in need of a sense of home. By the end of our year we had amassed most of our friends' pots, pans and other cooking apparatus deemed unnecessary to them but essential to us. We frequently cooked for dozens of people, even if only a simple pasta meal topped with real parmesan smuggled from abroad in our luggage.

A year in Baghdad built a fairly solid repertoire of simple, wholesome recipes and saw us co-host our very first Thanksgiving with much more experienced warzone hands than ourselves. Between about six of us, we cooked five turkeys and an enormous number of traditional side dishes for more than 50 guests. After a year, thousands of memories and too many lessons in the difference between rockets and mortars later, we relocated to "peaceful" Kabul. That was 2007. Little did we know or expect that the situation in that country would deteriorate.

For the first several months, I was located in north-west Afghanistan, living in the ancient city of Mazari-Sharif as the area co-ordinator for a French humanitarian affairs agency. While challenging - the job involved the construction of more than 1,000 shelters for refugees, conflict mitigation and health awareness programmes - this gave me the opportunity to see rural and remote areas of the country, frequently travelling to villages to do assessments, attend elections and other events and to meet religious leaders. During these months I ate mostly local food, apart from the odd steak at the only restaurant in Mazar, and as such had my run-in with intestinal parasites from eating yogurt and fresh fruit washed in who knows what.

In the meantime, Chris was based in Kabul. At the end of 2007, I got a job there and joined him. We knew that if we were going to keep from going crazy, we had to move into our own house, and so settled in a circa 1970s three-bedroom house in a local neighboorhood, away from the overpriced, walled-off developments preferred by contractors and many other expat organisations. It was winter 2008, one of the coldest in Afghanistan in recent memory, and we decided to renovate. Apart from painting the walls and installing a water-pressure pump to ensure the supply to the upstairs bathroom, where did we start? The kitchen, of course, where we installed a five-burner gas stove and fitted Ikea shelves and a pot rack brought in, piece by piece, from Festival City in Dubai, augmented by visits to Sur le Table in the US, stocked by gourmand shops in South Africa, markets in Turkey, Egypt, cheese shops in Italy, delis in Paris and everywhere in between.

Although by comparison with Baghdad, fresh produce was abundant in Kabul, we still could not source basics such as fresh basil, baby greens, celery or cherry tomatoes from the local economy. Instead of giving up, we cultivated a vegetable garden that supplied us with all of it and more. Through the combined efforts of excess luggage, our vegetable patch and generous friends alongside a growing number of "western-style" supermarkets going up around town, we do OK - and, as in Baghdad, what we cannot find we either substitute as best we can or simply do without.

We have literally lived through and for our food and love of cooking it for friends. Our home has grown up around our kitchen, where we entertain up to three or four nights a week for everyone from friends to ambassadors. I am often reminded of the secluded lives people live as guests marvel at the sense of "normality" we have created compared with the often excessively restricted nature of the living conditions.

Our counter has been called "the best place in Kabul" and - my favourite - "my happy place" by a frequent visitor. We have entertained hundreds of people at dinners including two traditional sit-down Thanksgivings for more than 30 guests each. We have laughed and cried in our kitchen and, most important, we have coped in our kitchen. We both have exceedingly challenging jobs, I as a human rights programme manager for a large NGO, and Chris building schools for the United Nations. One would think that worrying about dinner was the last thing on our minds, but in fact it becomes a refuge.

We are careful to plan and shop ahead so that whoever comes home first can get started on something. We make sure we have enough parmesan, a set of good knives, and a decent supply of fresh produce from the local bazaar, coupled with the olive and truffle oils, vinegars, tools and toys that we bring in (lots of explaining at the airport) and we are able to cope with whatever life in Afghanistan throws at us.

Not long ago, when the Taliban attacked a UN guesthouse, once we had confirmed the safety of all of our colleagues and friends, our first instinct was to get into the kitchen to bake something. For us, in these environments, more so even than before, it is about being together in a warm space the produces the aromas of what we have come to love. Susan Marx's blog is at www.warzonefoodie.com.

The specs

Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat-six

Power: 650hp at 6,750rpm

Torque: 800Nm from 2,500-4,000rpm

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch auto

Fuel consumption: 11.12L/100km

Price: From Dh796,600

On sale: now

SPECS

Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder turbo
Power: 268hp
Torque: 380Nm
Price: From Dh208,000
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  • Patients with the condition are prone to lung infections and often suffer from chronic coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
  • Life expectancy for sufferers of cystic fibrosis is now around 50 years.
The National Archives, Abu Dhabi

Founded over 50 years ago, the National Archives collects valuable historical material relating to the UAE, and is the oldest and richest archive relating to the Arabian Gulf.

Much of the material can be viewed on line at the Arabian Gulf Digital Archive - https://www.agda.ae/en

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Director: Ali Abbas Zafar

Starring: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Sunil Grover

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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Starring: Kani Kusruti, Divya Prabha, Chhaya Kadam

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Publisher: Odd Meter
Console: PlayStation 5, PC and Xbox series X/S
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Company: Eco Way
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Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya

Directors: Amit Joshi and Aradhana Sah

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, Dharmendra, Dimple Kapadia, Rakesh Bedi

Rating: 4/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

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KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

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Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
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General Classification

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Temple numbers

Expected completion: 2022

Height: 24 meters

Ground floor banquet hall: 370 square metres to accommodate about 750 people

Ground floor multipurpose hall: 92 square metres for up to 200 people

First floor main Prayer Hall: 465 square metres to hold 1,500 people at a time

First floor terrace areas: 2,30 square metres  

Temple will be spread over 6,900 square metres

Structure includes two basements, ground and first floor 

The biog

Name: Dhabia Khalifa AlQubaisi

Age: 23

How she spends spare time: Playing with cats at the clinic and feeding them

Inspiration: My father. He’s a hard working man who has been through a lot to provide us with everything we need

Favourite book: Attitude, emotions and the psychology of cats by Dr Nicholes Dodman

Favourit film: 101 Dalmatians - it remind me of my childhood and began my love of dogs 

Word of advice: By being patient, good things will come and by staying positive you’ll have the will to continue to love what you're doing

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How to become a Boglehead

Bogleheads follow simple investing philosophies to build their wealth and live better lives. Just follow these steps.

•   Spend less than you earn and save the rest. You can do this by earning more, or being frugal. Better still, do both.

•   Invest early, invest often. It takes time to grow your wealth on the stock market. The sooner you begin, the better.

•   Choose the right level of risk. Don't gamble by investing in get-rich-quick schemes or high-risk plays. Don't play it too safe, either, by leaving long-term savings in cash.

•   Diversify. Do not keep all your eggs in one basket. Spread your money between different companies, sectors, markets and asset classes such as bonds and property.

•   Keep charges low. The biggest drag on investment performance is all the charges you pay to advisers and active fund managers.

•   Keep it simple. Complexity is your enemy. You can build a balanced, diversified portfolio with just a handful of ETFs.

•   Forget timing the market. Nobody knows where share prices will go next, so don't try to second-guess them.

•   Stick with it. Do not sell up in a market crash. Use the opportunity to invest more at the lower price.

The specs

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Transmission: nine-speed automatic

Power: 630bhp

Torque: 900Nm

Price: Dh810,000

Film: Raid
Dir: Rajkumar Gupta
Starring: Ajay Devgn, Ileana D'cruz and Saurabh Shukla

Verdict:  Three stars 

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Uefa Champions League, last-16, second leg (first-leg scores in brackets):

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