KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Happy 1392! It's Nowruz -- New Year's Day -- in Afghanistan. Three calendars are followed here. Nowruz is a Persian calendar. Then there's the Islamic calendar -- on which we are in the year1434. And, of course, it's also 2013.
I'm celebrating the New Year with Razia Jan, founder of the Zabuli School, the very first girls' school in a conservative Afghan village, and the only free private school in the country. I already admired her enough to want to make a documentary film about her work, and this is the second time I've come to Afghanistan to film with her. Razia is the kind of woman I can't help but respect: brave, idealistic, kind, committed -- and fun. She's also the ideal cultural guide.
Today, she is teaching me the secret to making Haft Mewa, the traditional New Year's dish. It literally means "Seven Fruits", and it's true to its name. The seven ingredients are: raisins, senjed (fruit of the oleaster tree), pistachios, prunes, walnuts, almonds and plums.
Cooking with Razia is as special as cooking with my family. We're creating something together, and during the process we're sharing stories, reminiscing, laughing. and ultimately learning about one another and ourselves.
What I came to appreciate while making Haft Mewa surprised me: the rather deep and complex truisms a girl can learn through labor over a pot of lowly walnuts.
"Damn those New Years' people," Razia says about this culinary tradition. Spoken like a woman who doesn't have time to waste. But it's only seven ingredients. So what's the big deal? You don't just throw the almonds, pistachios and walnuts in a bowl and call it a day. Not by a long shot. First the nuts are soaked. Then the nuts are peeled -- one nut at a time, by hand.
- If you want to learn patience -- peel a boiled walnut.