The power of pan

One evening we ate in the Pakistani restaurant, one of about 4 choices we have to eat in the hotel. The Pakistani restaurant is the most lusciously decorated, not surprisingly. There is an open kitchen, probably not the usual thing for a fancy restaurant but to give foreigners a glimpse of what happens in the kitchen. You can peek at how naan is made for example.

The waiters are dressed with turbans and embroidered jackets. We are whisked to our seats as if we are royalty. We are both small eaters and ordered two dishes which came with twice as many accompanying dishes, including achar (lime and mango steen pickle, raita and plum chutney, plus shrimp chips and nuts).

After dinner we received a bracelet made from jasmine blossoms and rose petals strung on a metal band by the pan man. Pan is an after dinner concoction that you find all over South Asia. It consists of a leave rolled around various spices, supposedly as a digestive. I have eaten pan in Bangladesh and India and Nepal, so why not try the Pakistani variety.

My travel mate removed the mouthful of leaf and spices as soon as we were out of view but I bravely or stupidly chewed and swallowed everything, an act I came to regret. I have good reason to believe that this led to a serious 36 hour (maybe more) GI breakdown. For 24 hours I didn’t eat as my body expelled everything that went in. I had no appetite and lost my energy quickly. Our Pakistani colleague immediately went out and bought me Oral Rehydration Solution which is the only thing I took in, to replenish the lost electrolytes.

Despite my reduced energy, which put me a bit on the sidelines, we completed the workshop. Our participants were happy and appreciative, some because it was the best orientation they could have wanted as a new employee and others because they now have allies around specific topics or understand better some of the technical aspects of the organization’s work.

Our Pakistani colleague left first, returning to Islamabad a few hours after the completion of our work. The two of us remaining checked out the Lebanese restaurant for our last dinner. It is run by a real Lebanese cook. I spoke with him in a mixture of Lebanese and Dari but he understood me. He left 40 years ago when he saw the writing on the wall in his homeland. He appears to have done well, with his larger than life picture on the advertisements for the Sheraton’s cuisine. We must have disappointed him, ordering only 3 mezzeh dishes and not even finishing them. I am still pecking at food like a sparrow. We had the leftovers doggie-backed for my lunch today. If I had been in better shape I would have missed the Lebanese wine.

My Johns Hopkins colleague left in the middle of the night for Baltimore and now I am the only one left, tying up loose ends and reviewing the contents of my mailbox until my long transit begins in about 2 hours.

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November 2013
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