Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Friend, Mustafa Sarwar

At the airport in Kabul, before boarding our small prop for Mustafa's first-ever airplane ride. Turned out we were the only passengers. It was like having a private jet fly us across Afghanistan.

I recently had the pleasure of eating a gourmet Afghan dinner at the Prague home of my dear friend, Mustafa Sarwar. (You can see photos of the meal below.)

I first met Mustafa in November 2002 at the Kabul Bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. I'd been sent by RFE/RL to cover the situation in Afghanistan one year after the fall of the Taliban. I'd spend a month in the country and would need a "fixer" -- someone who spoke English as well as Pashto and Dari, someone who knew the chaotic city and could help me set up interviews, translate interiews, and generally steer me in the right direction.

Mustafa was that man.

I spent every day of that month with Mustafa. I could not have asked for a smarter, more capable or more sociable companion. Any reporting successes I enjoyed in Afghanistan I owe entirely to Mustafa. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

One of my fondest memories was being able to arrange Mustafa's first airplane ride. We needed to get to the western city of Herat, and driving was not an option. We booked passage on a charter airline used primarily by UN and NGO workers. I think the prop plane sat about eight people, but when we showed up for our flight at Kabul airport, we discovered that we would be the only passengers.

Somewhere over central Afghanistan.

Mustafa sees his vast country from the air for the first time.

We marveled at the view as we cruised just above the snow-upholstered mountains of the Hindu Kush, tiny settlements -- effectively cut off from civilization -- just visible in the nooks and crannies of the valleys and mountainsides.

At some point, Mustafa turned to me and said, "You know, I'd always heard people describe Afghanistan as mountainous, or talk about how difficult it is to get food and supplies to some of the remote Afghan villages, but I never really knew what they meant. Now I know."

I left Afghanistan, exhausted and exhilarated.

Mustafa remained to continue his medical studies at Kabul University. We kept in touch, and Mustafa's career eventually led him away from medicine and toward journalism. He became a famous anchorman on Tolo TV, Afghanistan's most popular television station, becoming the "Afghan Dan Rather," as I heard him described -- a celebrity regularly recognized on the streets of the Afghan capital.

To make a long story short, he was eventually hired full-time by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan a few years ago to work as a journalist at our Prague headquarters. And he married a lovely Afghan woman named Bahar, who somehow found time to prepare the lavish meal Daisy and I enjoyed a few weeks back, while also keeping an eye on their two young sons -- Solomon, who's 4, and Arsalan, who's 9 months old.

I don't think I have ever eaten so much or enjoyed it more.

It was amazing to peek into Mustafa's new life in Prague and to think about all that had happened since we first met. He's even studying in Prague for a master's degree in professional communication and public relations from La Salle University.

I'm so happy for Mustafa -- for his new life, for his new wife and children, for his successful journalism career, and for all the new friends he's made.

All the best, my friend.

While I was in Afghanistan, I was the guest of honor when Mustafa invited me to his home in Kabul. It was another memorable meal. I'm pictured here with Mustafa's father, Mohmmad Sarwar Siddiqi (on the right), Mustafa's uncle, Mohammed Karim, who served as our driver (on the left), and Mustafa (second from left).

Mustafa in November 2002, offering me dessert. How could I refuse?

Mustafa and I just after our arrival in the western Afghan city of Herat, at that time ruled by Ismail Khan as his personal fiefdom.

The amazing chef, Bahar, Mustafa's wife. Lucky man!

The honey-soaked dessert called Gulab Jaman.

Homemade sweets.

Afghan rice pudding. So simple and delicious.

More homemade Afghan sweets. This is called shirpera.

Spinach. Not usually my favorite, but this was truly amazing

Minced meat patties called kufta.

Chicken Kurma.

Marinated lamb with herbs and spices, called Kabab-e-Degi.

Homemade Nan-e-Tandoori.

Saffron rice cooked with lamb and garnished with sweet carrots, raisins and nuts. It's called Qabeli Palaw.


  1. Great post. Great trip. Truly great food. Terrible beard!

  2. i agree. afghanistan has some truly magnificent qualities in food and the country itself.