Bokaris and skiing plans for the winter

19 10 2009
European and Russian influences on 19th Century woodcarving, Peacock House

European and Russian influences on 19th Century woodcarving, Peacock House

So as President Karzai comes to terms with facing a run-off I’m looking for things to keep me busy over the winter. One thing is certain – it will be cold and anywhere from 3-5 months of the harsher weather will stop outdoor building work on site all together. We are planning to make the most of the completed rooms and basements by setting up carpentry and mason workshops to continue making building parts inside. We’ll get the lime pits filled up and the wood burners (bokaras) stoked all day.

I have heard that skiing is a good option and even read that not only did Afghanistan have a ski resort at Argandhi but that a warlord planned to build another. The Salang pass is fairly accessible and I hear Rory Stewart, who set up Turquoise Mountain used to get his driver to drop him at the top and then pick him up 3 hours later at the edge of the snowline. The mines are only an issue if the snow is shallow or you’re going too slow.

By all accounts President Karzai isn’t too happy about being forced into a second election by the Electoral Complaints Commission’s findings that hundreds of thousands of votes were fraudulent, potentially as many as 1 in 4. You’d think that a 55 % to 28 % margin from the first election is enough to be confident of a win but bulk voting, where a whole tribe will vote as instructed by their leaders, could shift the balance if the fraud was as serious as investigations have shown.

Duncan DJ

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Locked down waiting for politics

17 10 2009

It has been tense here over the last week. A massive blast outside the Indian Embassy killed 25 and injured close to 100. Although no Indian Embassy staff were hurt the Pakistani intelligence service has been blamed for the attack. Some speculation blames Pakistan’s fear of improving relations between Afghanistan and India although this comment itself will be divisive. We heard the bomb clearly from site in Murad Khane and the following dust cloud rose a couple of hundred metres into the air. Much of the rest of the day was a write-off as rumours of both a suicide bomber and a kidnapper roaming the streets led to further restrictions on our movements. Despite this I still feel safer embedded within a community that knows us than I would anywhere else in Kabul.

I’m not sure whether fresh fighting in Wazirizan will reduce or raise tension here in Kabul but I don’t envy any of the 30,000 Pakistani soldiers about to commence battle in fast-dropping temperatures.

The Peacock House in 2006 after rubbish clearance but before TM's year-long work to restore it

The Peacock House in 2006 after rubbish clearance but before TM's year-long work to restore it

The building below is of Peacock House, Turquoise Mountain’s first restoration project in Murad Khane. When TM came to MK the building, like many was close to collapse. The original wooden detailing was an inspiration for our commission for the Prince’s Lodge Suite in the Connaught Hotel.

Meanwhile we have been visited by our jolly sanitation engineer a world expert in his field. The longer I spend on managing Murad Khane’s infrastructure the more I realise how revolutionary his design is to the people of Kabul. I’m sure even after decades here you don’t become immune to the smells that hang around these narrow twisting streets. To treat the sewage for use on fields and actually dilute the river with clean water seems far-fetched but is technically within our grasp.

Peacock House in the centre of Murad Khane. This is a typical example of 150 year old architecture using timber panel that slide up in summer to open the rooms up.

Peacock House in the centre of Murad Khane. This is a typical example of 150 year old architecture using timber panel that slide up in summer to open the rooms up.

Whilst Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Commission decides whether to allow Karzai to start his third term or, in response to the significant accusations of fraud, allow his closest rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah a run-off we have been locked down waiting for likely unrest. The only thing stopping these politicians sending their supporters onto the streets is negotiations that would give Abdullah a significant position in the government.

Afghaniman - The Engineer. Probably mid fifties although he has given various ages depending on the circumstance.

Afghaniman - The Engineer. Probably mid fifties although he has given various ages depending on the circumstance.

Afghaniman this week is ‘The Engineer’ our linchpin in the Murad Khane project. Engineer Hedeyat aka Haji-Seb (those who have made the Haj to Mecca) has experience on a number of significant projects in Kabul and has worked for the UN all around the country. Charmingly he came to us because his family were worried about the risks of travelling in Afghanistan so sent him our way. Tough and as canny as any Afghan I have met he brings the local angle to all aspects of managing MK. A key debate is our attempts to bring in market values over Afghan hierarchy within the middle and senior engineering staff. Already with significant power in MK he does well to keep a tight cohort around him.

I have yet to get a photo of the head of TM’s health clinic, Dr Shokria. Both taking photos of and asking details about Afghan women is a serious faux-pas.

Duncan DJ