31st July 2013 Zimbabwe
Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Hosts Last Iftar Dinner Before Draw Down
The PRT hosted a traditional ‘Iftar’ dinner recently which was attended by a diverse mix of 50 local Afghan dignitaries, including Provincial Governor Naeem, district governors, government officials, security leaders, mullahs and ulema, as well as international officials and staff from the PRT and our military colleagues (ISAF).
The mixture of Afghan, PRT and ISAF personnel in attendance embodied the collegiate spirit and close working relationships between local Afghans and the international community in Helmand. This approach of a “combined team” has been essential in delivering Helmand’s progress in development, rule of law, and governance.
During the Holy Month of Ramadan, or ‘Ramazon’ as it is referred to in Afghanistan, Helmandis join Muslims throughout the world in prayer for blessings and forgiveness. They abstain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn until sunset. The ‘Iftar’ meal is the traditional breaking of the fast each day after sunset, and is often celebrated by families and friends. An invitation to an Iftar meal is a sign of deep respect and friendship.
Since 2007 the Helmand PRT has hosted an annual Iftar meal out of respect for our Afghan colleagues and appreciation for the strength of the cooperation they have shown us in our joint work here. As we will be closing in early 2014 this was our last chance to host an Iftar and so had special meaning.
Our ever-versatile PRT decking was suitably transformed into a large Afghan-style communal area for an evening of reflection, convivial chatting and delicious food. As dusk fell guests and dignitaries started to arrive into what quickly became a warm and friendly affair with Afghans and international guests mingling and chatting.
Our Afghan guests then prayed, in time for the call to prayer (the ‘muezzin’) which signaled the official breaking of the fast. In line with tradition, this was marked by drinking water and eating dates. Then the main Iftar meal began; with groups of Afghans and international staff sat together on the decking, eating, sharing, talking and laughing.
Local chefs from Lashkar Gah had spent an afternoon in the air conditioned cool of the PRT library preparing an amazing menu of lamb kebabs and chicken thighs which were later cooked on hot coals outside. There was also Kabuli Rice (a famous Afghan dish of rice with raisins) and a meatball dish. Dessert included a particularly delicious Jalebi dish, a sweet dish made by deep-frying a wheat-flour soaked in sugar syrup, followed by traditional dates and fresh fruits.
After the meal there were four speeches: mine focused on celebrating the success of the combined team’s work in Helmand and acknowledged the sacrifice of international and Afghan troops to make this progress possible.
The US Senior Civilian Representative Paul Berg gave a thoughtful speech which focused on what he had learnt from his time in Helmand from working with Afghan and other international colleagues. The Commanding General of Regional Command (South West), Major-General Miller, also focused on the achievements in Helmand, and finally the Provincial Governor praised the strength of our UK, US, Danish, Estonian and Afghan partnership in Helmand with friendships that will endure.
It was a real privilege to host this iftar dinner. I will remember it for so many reasons, the wonderful company, the sharing of stories, delicious food sat around the decking, and the opportunity to witness such an important time in our Afghan colleagues’ religion and culture.
I do hope that all of our Afghan friends and colleagues continue to have a peaceful Ramadan, and we wish them all a ‘Ramazon Mubarak’.
To view more photos of PRT’s Iftar Dinner see our Flickr page
Helmand Radio and Television evening news (in Pashto) covered the PRT Iftar Dinner as its lead story.