From the moment I landed, I knew the people, the pace of this place, and the smells of the country would stay with me for years.
One night, my hosts took me to a restaurant in town and we were seated hidden away in this little alcove (a white Western woman in that part of the world needs to be respectfully discreet). I took off my shoes and tucked my feet under me on this exquisite old Oriental rug and waited. The men around me smoked hookah and laughed uproariously (no doubt due to whatever was in the pipe), chasing their puffs with handfuls of food and energy drinks, a big hit there.
Moments after we'd arrived, the waitstaff put down a plastic tablecloth on top of the rug and then served us all some spicy vegetable soup, skewers of lamb, beef and chicken, a flatbread called noni, rice, and sabzi, a cooked spinach dish with coriander and cilantro. I tore into everything with my hands, as is the custom there—it happens to be my preferred way to eat, which drives my mother crazy—the meat spiced with turmeric, nutmeg, and cardamom and so succulent, the rice fluffy and just subtly flavored and colored with saffron. After everything was quickly devoured, we used straws to drink cooling plain yogurt, as you do at the close of the meal there.
The whole dinner, from the moment I took off my shoes to when I found myself whisked out into the waiting convoy of cars again, lasted no more than 15 minutes. In and out. The best fast food I've ever had.