When cooking is a radical act

Foreign women opening restaurants in Kabul provide stability and comfort to a war-torn area.

By Carol Lloyd

Published December 19, 2007 12:10AM (EST)

Here's an unlikely tale of female enterprise, published in Women's eNews, about foreign women who have opened restaurants in Kabul. According to the story, the restaurants are one of the few signs of thriving private businesses in a city where rocket attacks and suicide bombings have become commonplace. Offering anything from Mexican and Filipino to Thai and Italian, the restaurants cater mostly to foreigners.

But it's clear that these are more than sweet little businesses where wives of U.N. workers make soup while their husbands do important work. They are high-security oases, with barbed wire and armed guards at the doors. They offer simple comforts that, in a more stable culture, might be taken for granted: relative safety, nourishment, a place to meet people, a place to be alone.

What struck me about the story was the gutsiness of the women who were inspired to open restaurants in such unstable contexts. One Thai restaurateur, Lalitha Thongngamkam, is a veritable crisis chaser, following the relief workers from one war-torn country to the next -- Kosovo, Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda and East Timor. When areas become too stable and competition increases, she moves on to the next international crisis zone. And in a country where women in authority have often become targets of violence, it's an especially nervy undertaking.

Of course, were it not for a news operation like Women's eNews, these women's unusual careers might have gone unnoticed. Even when cooking Tom Yum Gum is an act of courage, it still occupies that invisible zone of work so well-populated with women.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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