The first meal I ever shared with Fayaz was over a year ago. I was an intern at the International Rescue Committee and Fayaz had just arrived in Washington DC via Afghanistan, carrying little more than a green card and a suitcase. As an intern, my primary responsibility was to help resettling refugees adapt to life in America, and on one particular afternoon, this meant driving with Fayaz to a social services office in northern Virginia.
We spent the afternoon filling out food stamp applications and sitting through inconclusive interviews, all of which left us annoyed and hungry by the end of the day. On the drive back, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce Fayaz to the most American of cuisines, a value meal at McDonald’s.
Up to this point Fayaz had taken to America rather easily, navigating the DC metro system and applying for a credit card by himself, but he was completely stumped as he stood in front of the McDonald’s menu. I advised him to stay away from the Big Mac for a while, and that the grilled chicken sandwich would be a safe choice for a beginner.
Eying the sandwich suspiciously, Fayaz took his first bite; chewed slowly – paused – and then spat the food back into its bag. “You didn’t tell me there was pork on this!” he snorted, pulling a translucent strip of bacon from his mouth with his thumb and index finger. I apologized and explained that I didn’t eat at McDonald’s often and I hadn’t known that the grilled chicken sandwich came with bacon. I had also momentarily forgotten that Muslims don’t eat pork.
Fayaz wouldn’t take another bite, but he did enjoy the fries. As he munched, he explained to me that there weren’t any pigs in Afghanistan, except maybe in a zoo, and their certainly wasn’t any bacon. I was fascinated that he could be happy in life without bacon, but he assured me it was possible. I continued to ask more questions about his country and his home life, all of which I knew surprisingly little about considering the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
This would prove to be the experience that propelled our relationship past the realm of just work, because a few weeks later, after my internship ended, I got a call from Fayaz inviting me to an Afghan restaurant. I had introduced him to American food, now it was his turn to return the favor. We kept in contact over the next couple months, sometimes meeting up for Afghan food, but never going back to McDonald’s.
I didn’t stay in DC for long, and after a stint working for a newspaper in Nepal, I began making plans to move to New York. I was already in the city, going down my list of acquaintances and moving from couch to couch as I hunted for apartments, when Fayaz called. It had been several months since we last talked, and coincidentally he was now living with a friend in Brooklyn.
When I asked about his couch situation, he said that he didn’t have one, but that I was welcome to stay with him and his friend for the entire month if I was okay with being a little cramped. I was okay with it.