Last Thursday, at the first Food for Thought of 2020 Crossing Borders hosted Dr. Samay Hamed. The event opened as usual with a presentation of Dr. Hamed’s experiences in Afghanistan where he has been trying to bring various means of non-formal education and break cultural taboos, all with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of his fellow Afghanis. Following that, our wonderful intern, Ms. Yuka Fuji, and her friend Hika presented an incredible Japanese dinner for us featuring five different dishes (and which very well could have been presented as a 4-course, five-star meal).
Like all of our FFT speakers, Dr. Hamed is a man of many talents. He is a trained medical doctor, a journalist who won the 2003 International Press Freedom Award, a prolific author of books and songs (32 book, 100 songs, and counting), and is committed to challenging the status quo of culture, education, and ways of thought in Afghanistan. In Dr. Hamed’s mind, the way to change society is by starting from the bottom rather than the top. To do this, he says, you must change the way people think and help encourage critical thinking. After noting the lack of space for critical thinking in Afghan society and education, Dr. Hamed decided the best way to do this was by creating these spaces himself. These spaces include (among others) musical festivals, workshops, satirical T.V. shows, and underground publications.
His first attempt at this initiative was to create a new alphabet song for children. The song provided an alternative way to learn about letter sounds that the common methods (used in mosques and schools) had not employed. The alphabet song ended up becoming so popular that the Afghan Ministry of Education now employs a similar method throughout the country. Furthermore, to counter the concept that only famous individuals can create art or stories worthy of public consideration, Dr. Hamed invited students to a workshop that produced an original story that which received international publication. In a similar vein, he also developed an initiative that collected discarded blackboards from around the country. Workshops about the physics of light, color, and shapes were turned in to painting events for children and the resultant works were sold around the world. Proceeds from the sales were used to purchase 1000 whiteboards for classrooms throughout Afghanistan.
To bring spaces for critical thinking to adults, Dr. Hamed has employed a variety of methods. Of particular note were magazines that included poetry, art, and poignant political satire. He has also helped facilitate a clothes recycling workshop for women that simultaneously discuss social issues and political rights.
Ultimately, it can be said that Dr. Hamed is seeking Afghan-led solutions for the issues he has identified. As a cabinet member of the government, he is seeking to “shake a hand” for the country rather than relying on international monetary deals. He called to our attention the corruption that comes from dumping money into problems rather that digging into society’s roots to look for solutions. He spoke about an older tradition in Afghanistan what was similar to the community kitchens/and meals he saw during his time here. He would like to renew this concept but make it larger in scale so that a sense of local and national community is refreshed, and social bonds strengthened.
Speaking of food, the culinary portion of the night centered around a traditional Osaka pancake called okonomiyaki, filled with onion and drizzled with mayo and a wonderfully tangy brown sauce brought by Hika. Dish number two, nikujaga, featured boiled potatoes and vegies which were essentially a vehicle for the infamous umami flavor that can be difficult to find in Denmark. Takikomi gohan (rice with veggies) provided additional heft to our plates as dish number three. The meal was rounded out with piping hot miso soup and weafed salad covered in a sesame dressing. As usual, there were hardly any leftovers and I was left begging for recipes.
Thanks to all who attended, the CB team looks forward to seeing you at our next event! I would like to leave you with a poignant thought from an original poem by Dr. Hamed that speaks specifically to Afghan-US relations but is relevant to our hope for a peaceful future: There are children who play and dream/of a free and fresh future/they could understand each other/and/they will meet each other as tourists/not as soldiers.