#Bookreview: Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni

Photograph shows author Mary Smith handing a certificate of completion of a healthcare course to an Afghan woman.
Author Mary Smith Presenting a Graduation Certificate

My Review

The image shows the front cover of Mary Smith's book Drunk Chickens & Drunk Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women.
Click on the book cover to purchase from Amazon.

Mary Smith’s Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real stories of Afghan women surprised me. Going into it, I expected the memoir to be interesting, as its focus is on a part of the world I know very little about. What I did not expect was that it would be so compelling.

For three years in the 1990s, Smith and her partner Jon worked in Afghanistan for a nonprofit to provide healthcare and health education for women in Mazar-i-Sharif. Poverty, hygiene practices that led to disease, cultural myths, and reluctance to discuss gynecological problems with male doctors were all challenges Smith was faced with addressing.

She did it by establishing the Female Health Volunteer training project, whereby Afghan women would be trained to provide health education to the women in their villages, focusing on antenatal care, safe childbirth and postpartum care, and the care of babies and young children who failed to thrive due to diarrhea.

The details of the volunteer training project and the story of each woman who participated in it were the highlight of the book for me and the reason I looked forward to picking it up again to read after a long day. The women were so proud of their ability to learn new concepts and practices, pass the required testing, and go back to their villages to use what they had learned to improve the health and wellbeing of others.

One of the most striking aspects of the book is how Smith describes the deprivation and unsanitary conditions in which she worked and lived. These conditions are described matter-of-factly and without the judgmental lens of squeamish first-world privilege. Along similar lines, Smith’s goal to help improve the health and living conditions of Afghan women and their children has none of the zeal of the missionary to proselytize and convert them to a Western way of life.

Threaded throughout the book is contextual information about the traditional role of women in Afghan society, marital relationships, changes in Afghan society toward modernization, and the political situation, which ultimately led to the takeover by the Taliban.

The last section of the book is devoted to what happened to the women I came to know and care about after the Taliban took over the country. Their stories of horrific tragedy and, ultimately, resilience are one more reason I highly recommend Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni.

The Land

This photograph shows the mountains of Afghanistan.
Scenery (Click image to enlarge.)

The Women

Photograph shows three Afghan women training to be healthcare workers.
Three of the Students with Our ‘Baby’ (Click image to enlarge.)
Photograph shows a a group of Afghan women with certificates of completion of a healthcare course.
Graduation Day (Click image to enlarge.)
This photograph shows a group of Afghan woman eating lunch.
Lunch in the clinic on graduation day. The men waited on the women. (Click image to enlarge.)
The photograph shows a line of Afghan women waiting for an antenatal clinic.
Some of the Women Arriving for Ante-Natal Day (Click image to enlarge.)

The Social Media Connection

Mary has provided a fascinating account about how she has received updates to the women’s stories through social media. Click on the heading above to read her updates.

184 thoughts on “#Bookreview: Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni

  1. The title is enough to make me want to read this book, Liz. Now your description “interesting” and “compelling” is enticing me further. Like you, I love to learn more about parts of the world I know little about. You remind me how education is exceptionally important. Thank you for sharing a wonderful review, Liz. Now on my TBR list. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I am looking forward to reading this – I think I have it on my Kindle. I read Mary Smith’s novel ‘No More Mulberries’ which I loved and followed her recent blog looking back on those times, which also led, I believe, to Mary hearing from some of those people. It’s a rare opportunity to have an insider’s account of a country that has never been well known to ordinary folk in the west.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. This sounds like a fascinating book. Thank you for sharing. I also read the sort of postscript (Social Media), and I’m glad Mary Smith has heard from some of the women. I know the situation for women became quite dire under Taliban rule.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Liz, a brilliant review of ‘Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni’ and you’ve captured the book exactly. I read this last year and was gripped. Like you I thought it would be an interesting dip into the region, the tour de force personal angle was incredible, as you say, compelling. How true that the reader quickly forms an attachment to the various students as they follow them through to graduation … and beyond. Oh, the sanitary conditions had me squirmy and I’m in awe of Mary Smith and the other women for just getting on with it! It’s great to come across another reader who gained so much from the book … and it has stayed with me in detail. BTW. It was great to see the large photos from the time as they were only small black and white images on my Kindle!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I’m so pleased you enjoyed Liz’s review Annika. She’s done a wonderful job of putting a whole feature together with the photos and the wee update from me. I remember your review with great fondness, too.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Thank you so much for sharing your experience of reading Drunk Chickens, Annika! I couldn’t agree more about the awe and respect I have for Mary and other women for taking on the work of helping disadvantaged women improve their own health and the health of their children.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Reblogged this on Mary Smith's Place and commented:
    I’m delighted to share a wonderful review of Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni by author, poet and blogger Liz Gauffreau. It’s the kind of review which makes a writer grin from ear to ear, do a wee happy dance around the desk and decide that writing books is worthwhile after all.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I have bought almost all of Mary’s books, including this one. I have to confess I have yet to read them, though meanwhile I have followed every step of her fascinating time abroad via her wonderful blog posts. Thanks for a great review, Liz.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. It’s just my Covid reading shutdown, Mary. I don’t seem to have been able to read any books since late 2019. I just can’t concentrate. Nothing personal, I assure you. 🙂 x

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. Liz’s review is lovely. I hope it will reach the top of your TBR pile soon and you enjoy finding out why the chickens were drunk and meeting the lovely women with whom I worked.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. No, GP, I don’t think either Liz or I are saying the women live in filth. In the rural areas where I lived and worked alongside them there was no running water, no sanitation, no electricity, all of which made it difficult to keep surroundings, houses and clothes clean. I left in 1996 and things have moved on. More villages have access to electricity thanks to generators.
      The women who keep in touch on social media live in Kabul or one of the other cities in Afghanistan such as Mazar-i-Sharif or Bamiyan.
      As I’m typing this reply to you I’m wondering if you asked the question with your tongue firmly in your cheek???

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Having followed Mary’s blog for a while, read about her adventures and also read her novel, I’m sure your review makes it justice. Thanks for sharing it, Liz.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Olga. I write this book first (it has been added to since it first came out) and then thought that as not everyone reads non-fiction maybe I should try to write a fictional account – and that became No More Mulberries, which you enjoyed.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I feel very privileged to have had such an experience. I hope I have honoured the women I met, many of whom became close friends. They wanted me to write a book because they had seen on my bookshelf books about the mujahideen, about the Commanders – all books written by westerners about the men of Afghanistan. – so I wrote it for them as well as for anyone interested in reading about Afghanistan from a different perspective. Sorry – kind of getting on my soapbox now,

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Once again, Liz, your review makes Mary’s book a compelling story to read, in as much as it goes deep into the lives of the Afghan woman living in this seemingly forever war torn country.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Oh my. This is such a timely book, Liz, and it sounds both engaging and well written. Another to add to my someday-soon pile. Thank you for letting us know about such an important real-life story.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. One of the most endearing comments of your review was the description of the women feeling proud of their learning accomplishments and the opportunity to share their knowledge and improve life for their people. What a noble project!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Afghanistan is a country that may best be left alone. Even the English pulled back in the 19th century. Churchill fought there as a young soldier. The Russians invaded it and had to leave.
    My father did a long trip to Afghanistan in 50-52, when he was stationed in Pakistan. I have digitalized the movie. Will publish it one day…
    Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, Afghanistan has been invaded many times but never entirely conquered (though Taliban came close and they weren’t external invaders). I’d love to see the movie of your father’s time in Afghanistan and learn more about him being stationed in Pakistan. I lived in Karachi for three years from 1986-89. I love hearing of other people’s experiences.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Salaam aleikum Memsahib. 😉 Pakistan now? I was born in Pakistan. loooong time ago. The family lore says I learnt Urdu before English or French. I recommend a post of mine called “snowball”. If you agree I can send you the link. Phir milenge. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Shulriya. 😉 Glad you liked Snowball. My parents lived 8 years in Pakistan. Traveled all around the subcontinent, all the way to Ceylon. There are 2 documents I need to edit and translate from French to English. One is the family history including our 2 centuries in India. Two is a book my father wrote once my mother passed away, which is basically their life in Pakistan. I also have all the pictures and negatives (and films!) since 1949 when they arrived in Karachi.
            No I have never “gone back”. I have my mind more on India before that. Though I wonder about the Indian immigration official in Delhi seeing my place of birth who might address me in Urdu! 🤣
            Take care Mary

            Liked by 2 people

      2. Just went to your page. Bookmarked it to go back. And read more at leisure… Thanks for your comment. About the movie. It is part of a massive effort of digitilization I’m doing. My parents had many movies (8mm) form 1949 to 1970 covering our life in Asia and Africa. I’m about halfway through. Then I will start posting. Will let you know.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I appreciated your fabulous review, Liz. Mary is good at describing the details vividly. It takes passion and commitment to work with people or women in poverty and health issues. Congratulations on the wonderful review, Mary. Thank you for sharing, Liz.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you very much for your comments, Miriam! I’m so glad you enjoyed the review. You are so right about the commitment it takes to work with people in poverty with health issues.

      Like

  13. What a wonderful review–not to mention what a special person Mary is to work with underprivileged women in a country like Afghanistan. To be that unselfish, to make that kind of difference in people’s lives, is truly inspirational. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is a wonderful review, Linda, and I was doing a happy dance when I read it 🙂 I don’t think of myself as being a special person – the women taught me as much if not more than I taught them and I feel privileged to have had the experiences I had – not many people are so lucky.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This does sound like a good book! Did it take long to get into? I have tried reading a few books similar to how this sounds but with the names and language “barriers” was very distracting to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I see Liz has already answered your queries. Yes, names are different and I do use some words in Dari but I think they are used sparingly and in a way that makes the meaning clear.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. What a lot of comments! I loved loved Mary’s book “No More Mulberries” for much the same reasons you enjoyed this one, Liz. It’s a part of the world I knew little about, and Mary’s story telling is riveting. This one sounds more biographical (I’m guessing). What an experience, and valuable gift to the women Mary served. Thanks for your review. And congrats to Mary.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Hi Liz, what a succinct review and the pictures really give us a feel for this book. I am curious about the title – because it really does pull ya in – and this sounds like a well done Memoir –
    🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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