12 / 03 / 2020

The tandoor of Moria

Afghan wood-fired ovens are an example of people's attempt to resist a regime of detention which imposes misery as normality.






Jawed no longer lives at Moria

After nearly half a year living in the “jungle” − the vast complex of thousands of makeshift tents that has developed around the original structure of perhaps the most infamous refugee camp in Europe, the young asylum seeker from Afghanistan now lives in one of the apartments that is funded by the UNHCR in the town of Mytilene.

Life in the largest town on Lesvos, he says, offers security, for himself and for his two family members, who attempted this “journey” with him to Europe. It also ensures a daily life away from the dystopian environment of Moria −the mud and stench, the tension, brawls, violence and rape, all of which have long since ceased to amaze.

Until recently, Jawed was the representative for the Afghan community at Moria, which makes him a recognized figure and an important person in the community. Thus, he has many friends and acquaintances and he tries to visit the camp often to spend some time with them.

Naan goes with every meal of the day

Bread, called naan in Farsi, is central in the Afghan diet.

The different types and names for naan come from the way the dough is handled and the way it’s shaped.

The panjirkash which is the most common kind, has an oblong shape that results from the way the dough is worked by hand on the rafida, a fabric mat which is used to place the naan on the interior walls of the tandoor.

The khamri is thinner and resembles pita bread; it is placed on the tawa (a metal pan, usually the bottom part of the barrel, made to be flat, smooth and colorless) and this, in turn, opens the tandoor like a lid.

The woito is another type of nan containing maska (butter). It has a higher nutritional value and is consumed by wealthy families.

All types of naan are baked in the tandoor is a cylindrical oven used for baking and cooking, and is usually made of clay or metal.

These structures, resembling a clay pot, are common in the countries of south, central and western Asia. In Afghanistan, tandoors are made by digging a large hole deep in the ground and then building the inner walls with stone, mud and bricks.

At Moria, we came across ovens that were made in this way but also others that had a large clay jar inside, as well as wood ovens built over the surface of the earth with soil, water and hay.

For Afghans, as for other people in these regions of Asia, and contrary to our own customs, bread is not just something that accompanies the main meal. Conversely, it is such a central element of the meal, that it’s used to “scoop” the food on the plate, replacing (the more familiar to us), cutlery.

Naan is considered a necessary part of each mealtime: at breakfast, which is served early, at seven in the morning, and may include tea or milk with naan; at lunch, which also includes eating the leftovers from the previous day; and at dinner, which is usually considered “the best meal” or the main meal of the day.

A bakery district at the Moria camp

The ovens at Moria didn’t appear from the start of the camp’s operation, rather they appeared over time, as the camp’s social life began to develop.

In the early days, the Reception and Identification Center (RIC) of Moria operated according to what its name indicates: someone arriving on Lesvos would be accommodated at the transit camp for a limited period of time, usually just days, in order to undertake registration and then move off the island to the mainland.

At that time, instead of ovens, just opposite from the entrance of the camp, canteens run by locals flourished. They mainly offered snacks to people who “had money to spend,” as one employee of the last remaining canteen recalls.

On the one hand, the need for people who were living on the island for up to a year, to feed their families and to earn a living through activities which are both an integral part of their culture and of their daily lives back home.

On the other hand, the need to survive while maintaining their basic human attributes through occupations that enable them to resist the normalization of extended wait times and idleness, as well as the severe consequences of these situations.

Men in Moria prepare the dough and the fire.
The panjirkash is worked by hand on the rafida before being placed in the oven.
The naan is placed on the interior walls of the tandoor.

Wood, water, flour −from the locals

The needs of at least 19,416 people, coupled with the inability of the administration to respond to these needs ( e.g. providing food, shelter from weather conditions) have created a unique market at Moria, where one can find, more or less, everything.

Currently, there are about a dozen tandoors which cover an entire district outside of the camp, in its northwestern part, and there are many more tandoors scattered throughout the “jungle”.

The tandoors offer an income to a small group of people, who sell the bread for €0.50. One can purchase the bread directly at the “bakery”, from sellers who roam the camps, or from street vendors who set up stalls at the Moria market.

An essential raw material for the tandoor is wood, which is usually derived from trees in the surrounding area of ​​the camp and is used for fire. The ingredients used in making bread are water, oil, flour and yeast.

Before dawn, the Moria bread bakers mix the dough and then leave it to “rest”. When it rises, it is divided into smaller portions, which in turn are left to rest for a while until the dough is finally worked by hand, and will be kneaded into long flat sheets before they are placed on the oven walls to bake.

How do the tandoor bakers get the supplies they need? Either at the shops or from suppliers in the village of Moria, or from other people who run the stalls at the Moria market, or from the large, chain-store supermarket located about a 20-minute walk away.

In many cases, however, they don’t have to go too far to buy the required ingredients. From the early hours of the morning until the sun sets, local suppliers flock to the Moria camp each day and sell their products to the people who live in the camp.

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