Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni by Mary Smith has been in my Kindle for several years. I only added it to my Goodreads list in 2022, probably when housekeeping after Mary’s death from cancer that Christmas. We met at a Bloggers Bash, and we became blogging friends, probably more on my side than hers, although she had a prodigious number of friends! If you read my IWSG post this month about what has changed in blogging–this is it, really, the loss of friends. But at least we are still able to read their books.

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women

By Mary Smith

Drunk Chickens and Burn Macaroni (subtitle) offers a remarkable insight into the lives of Afghan women both before and after Taliban’s rise to power. The reader is caught up in the day-to-day lives of women like Sharifa, Latifa and Marzia, sharing their problems, dramas, the tears and the laughter: whether enjoying a good gossip over tea and fresh nan, dealing with a husband’s desertion, battling to save the life of a one-year-old opium addict or learning how to deliver babies safely. 
Mary Smith spent several years in Afghanistan working on a health project for women and children in both remote rural areas and in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Given the opportunity to participate more fully than most other foreigners in the lives of the women, many of whom became close friends, she has been able to present this unique portrayal of Afghan women – a portrayal very different from the one most often presented by the media.

[Goodreads says: This item does not meet our catalog guidelines and can no longer be rated or reviewed. I suspect it may no longer be generally available]

My Review

Despite being drawn into Mary’s blog with the harrowing account of being smuggled into Afghanistan in a burqah, it has taken me a long time to get around to reading this. Perhaps I can echo Alex Craigie’s start to her review – I didn’t like the cover much. I am that shallow.

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni is so good it is almost impossible to review — or classify. I included lifestyle, funny, biography and historical in my selection of tags. But even if I invented a new shelf for it, I wouldn’t know what to call it. Real-life adventure, perhaps?

Mary Smith worked for an NGO delivering health care, and more importantly health care education, to women in the outer regions of Afghanistan. It was during the 1990s: the Taliban was a group of students, the various political factions fought among themselves, and women in the country looked after themselves and their families. Her story starts with her arrival in Afghanistan. She immediately realises that all the research she’d done on Islam, the way people lived, and the customs of the country were complete rubbish. Well, complete from a man’s point of view perhaps. Talking and, more importantly, listening to the women brought out a whole new world. One she had the skills to help improve – infant mortality, women’s health, especially in pregnancy, nutrition. All the women needed was clear education, assistance in overcoming traditional beliefs in health issues, and the resources to take the information back to their villages.

Charm and Drive

That may be what it’s about, but it’s who it’s about that is the charm and drive within this book. All the women who managed to fit into a more than full-time job looking after family, home, crops and children. They did that and still managed to walk up to two hours to the volunteer sessions and back. All the lives they saved through patient understanding, and hands on help with feeding, rehydration and midwifery skills. This is not a book for the squeamish, as some of the stories are horrendous.

And just as Mary finishes her three-year assignment, the Taliban start taking over. The last chapter (probably new for the 2012 edition) describes her trip to the post-Taliban Kabul, after the UN and USA pushed them out. I was left needing to check the current situation. How are these wonderful women we have come to know and love? Has Fatima still got that dream job in electronics engineering, or has the world been turned upside down yet again?

I leave this book wiser, but sadder. It may simply be that it has always been like this. Swings and roundabouts are all that life gives us. I used to believe we could change things for the good. Now I know we just have to survive, by bending with the prevailing wind, and bringing what we can to our companions on the way.

Book Review | Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni
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6 thoughts on “Book Review | Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni

  • 13 April, 2024 at 7:31 am

    I totally agree Jemima this is a real eye opener and thought provoking book as you say the there’s something odd about the cover which I could never put my finger on. The contents though like her blog suck you in immediately, Mary was an amazing woman and her books and blog are her testimony.
    Thank you for the review 💜

  • 13 April, 2024 at 7:37 am

    Thank you for reviewing dear Mary’s wonderful book. I love her writing and stories about her time in Afghanistan. I met her once as well and considered her a friend. She is sorely missed in the writing/blogging community.

  • 13 April, 2024 at 3:01 pm

    A lovely review of a very brave woman. From what I’ve read, the taste of freedom for the Afghan women didn’t last long. They are back to living under the stifling Taliban rule and are being stoned to death for infractions.

  • 13 April, 2024 at 7:15 pm

    Looks like the books is only available as a used paperback now. That’s too bad, because it sounds like a good book.

    • 13 April, 2024 at 11:18 pm

      Yes, I just looked on Amazon. A couple of others are listed as ebooks, No More Mulberries, and Donkey Boy (short stories). Before the Taliban is only listed in paperback, and short supply. Mary’s website has gone, too, so I never will finish her serialised version of being smuggled back in. 😥


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