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Christmas in Afghanistan

Drinking tea in the middle of the war torn Afghan desert may seem a surreal idea, but for the people of Afghanistan, the taking of tea is an old and important tradition. The hospitality associated with the serving of tea plays an integral part in Afghan culture. Tea is drunk frequently throughout the day. The tea (usually green or black Chai) is served in small handless cups (known as piala). The first cup of the day is usually served with lots of sugar. The more sugar added means the more honour that is being bestowed on the guest. This serving is then followed by second sugarless cup which is normally accompanied by sweets such as toffees, almonds or pastries. The guest must remember to turn their cup upside down when they have had enough, otherwise their host will continue to refill their cup.

This Afghan tea set, made of polished white alabaster stone, was given to Task Group Crib rotation 9 of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the Bamyan province, Afghanistan by the local Afghan Bam Construction Company for Christmas 2006. The note that came with the set reads:

Happy Christmas! We would like to express our gratitude for your help and support for the people of Bamiyan. We understand that your presence in Afghanistan brings stability and prosperity to the country especially for the people of Bamiyan province and you are always welcomed.  We hope when you go back home take with yourselves good memories from Bamiyan province. – Afghan Bam Construction Company (ABCC) Office 26/12/2006”.

The New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team were stationed in the Bamyan area of Afghanistan from October 2006 until April 2007. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Bamyan had been the centre of severe fighting between the Taliban and anti-Taliban forces which had caused significant damage to the area, including the deliberate destruction of the ancient Bayman Buddhas in 2001. The main goal of the Provincial Reconstruction Team was to supervise the disarmourment and demobilisation process which had begun in 2004 and assist the peaceful reintegration of the Afghan soldiers back into civilian society.

This tea set was presented to the National Army Museum in September 2007 by Captain Kerrin Connolly on behalf of the Commander of NZPRT 9, then Group Captain Kevin Short (RNZAF) – now the Chief of the Defence Force. The tea set is currently on display in the museum’s Afghanistan cabinet as part of our larger display on the New Zealand Army’s role in international peacekeeping activities.

By Brenden Shirley, Curator of Accoutrements, Social History and Medical

Pictured: 2008.16 – Afghan Tea Set presented to the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) at Christmas 2006.