Nine days on the ground

3 06 2009

I arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan nine days ago and I am just scratching the surface of living and working in this fascinating country.

Writing a blog would not usually be my first choice but I will try to interest and stimulate. Any paragraphs starting “Building -” will focus on what I’m doing on site in case you want to skip them. Please do let me know if you want to hear more about anything in particular.

My employer, the charity Turquoise Mountain Foundation (TM) operates between its roles of cultural and physical reconstruction.
On the one hand the ‘engineering’ team (as we are known) run parallel conservation and new-build projects whilst through training, education and employment TM helps provide income and a sense of pride for those involved.

Typical carved column and pata screen detail

Typical carved column and pata screen detail

This means that taking longer to do something by hand is acceptable sometimes preferable.

Although Kabul is always busy it doesn’t feel like a city of 3 million people. It is thinly spread over a wide area that now climbs the surrounding hills. Although no-one is prepared (or allowed) to do a potentially inflammatory census the population has grown swiftly since American intervention in 1999. Despite, or probably because of, these ‘interesting times’ I think it is actually economically thriving.

As tension climbs towards the elections in August those who have been here longer say the army and police presence on the street is greater. Ironically Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) staff are therefore now more at risk from petty criminals who are freer to operate as the authority focuses on greater threats. Incidents now threaten local authority and politicians.

So far my only experience of international soldiers was on the way to work this week. The traffic is slow and had been held up at the roundabout ahead. As the American patrol of three humvees crossed the roundabout at speed, automated gun turrets spinning nervously, my only thought was that it reminded me of a computer game.

I say roundabout but they are really obstacles as no-one pays them much attention. To reach shortcuts the charity’s drivers, just as everyone else, regularly drive against the traffic. Trying to make a good impression our 2 new drivers must be the only locals who use indicators and seatbelts.

On a more trivial note I had a fantastic hair and beard cut yesterday. Head massage and everything although I passed on the almond oil. Not able to ask exactly how much I was so content that I overpaid him. I think this will become a regular end of week session although colleagues who also go there complained that paying $6 creates expectations for next time.

Despite some of the characters amongst the international staff life in the fort is pretty relaxed.

There is always somewhere private to go, especially as no-one needs to share rooms at the moment. As the only new-boy I actually have the first floor to myself in a separate building. There is definitely a hierarchy based on length of time at TM although the more romantic rooms that are in the main fort have their faults.

This afternoon I am still recovering from a birthday party down in town. A shock to the system as I haven’t really drunk for a week and a half. Despite this and the rain (almost a relief) we managed a walk up one of the hills overlooking Kabul. There are plans for the architects and engineers to go to Herat, western Afghanistan in the near future. Tomorrow a car load of us are heading out of town for the day. A real beauty spot by all accounts.

Duncan DJ