Baghlani Bread Girls

Editor’s note: Baghlan is a Persian word that means “firehouse” and it is the local name for the bread described here in the north central province of Baghlan. In Pashto another name for this bread is qary

Where I live we do not have many different kinds of bread, like some countries, but we have a few. We have our typical simple bread that is found all over Afghanistan. We also have Baghlani bread, which is a special, famous, and very delicious bread. But perhaps the most important thing about this bread is the difficulty a woman has to endure in baking it.

Most Afghans bake bread in a tandoor, which is a shallow mud oven with a circular jet. We put it on the ground and make a fire on it to bake the bread. We have tandoors in different sizes, although usually the diameter is 55 to 70 centimeters. But in Baghlan Province, they use tandoors that are so big two people can fit inside.

Baghlani women bake their bread in such a large tandoor because the bread itself is very big, and at the same time, very thin. Everybody here enjoys the hot smell of this bread. The bread is like a big scarf and when you put vegetables on it, it’s like the scarf has many flowers. When you smell it, you remember a simple life, like in villages, and when you eat it, you feel like you are eating the best bread in the world.

With some vegetables and a kabob, it’s makes the perfect meal for a hungry person. In my language we have a saying when a food is especially delicious: We say we enjoy eating it so much, we’re going to eat our hands, too. If you ever try Baghlani bread, I encourage you to have a glass of doqh to help your stomach. Doqh is a cold drink made with salt, yogurt, water, and sometimes with cucumber and mint and it helps digest the meal.

Baghlani bread evokes a beautiful side of Afghanistan, but something that might hurt your heart is that Baghlani girls, who are known for making this kind of bread, are forced to marry at an early age. Their mothers take away their dolls and teach them how to bake the best bread so they can show their craft to a future husband. Most Baghlani girls learn how to bake between the ages of eight and thirteen, and every day we hear stories about girls who are burned and die while baking bread.

Perhaps the saddest image of bread baking is when you see a young girl with a small face surrounded by a big scarf. You can barely see her small black eyes as she is trying to get down into a big tandoor oven surrounded by flames to bake bread.

I have seen this girl. She is fighting with death every minute, but people do not care when her hands or part of her body is burned. People here do not care when these girls die. A girl like this could use her energy to play with dolls and other children, but instead, with every loaf of bread, she loses her energy showing people she’s a good girl and she’s in a place to be respected. However, these girls never get the respect they deserve.

By Masooma


Comments

  1. Dear Masooma,
    Thank you for exposing the dark side of Baglani bread-making. It’s very sobering to learn that something that brings pleasure to so many people comes at such a high price for these girls. Great work on this article.
    Claire

  2. Yes, behind this delicious food, there are many sad stories. I saw many small girls when they went down to Tandoor with their head to stick the bread on the wall of Tandoor.

  3. Richelle McClain says:

    It saddens me that so many girls are forced to risk their lives by baking Baghlani bread. But, if the bread were made by an older person under safe conditions, I would definitely risk “eating my hands”. Thank you for sharing this story.

  4. Masooma,

    You have written another beautiful and tragic essay. You have such a natural talent for storytelling, drawing the reader in with your wonderful and creative descriptions of the bread, and then breaking our hearts with the story behind the bread baking. There is so much sadness for women in your country, and you are so brave and insightful in sharing it with us.
    Warmly,
    Jill

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