Party, politics and the city wall

13 06 2009
Local kids in Murad Khane make use of the water pump while the playground is still being built

Local kids in Murad Khane make use of the water pump while the playground is still being built

Life is different here but people learn to adapt if they are to stay and survive. During Thursday’s team meeting there was the tell-tail thumping beat as a Chinook helicopter, followed by a sizable dust storm, and a Black Hawk helicopter landed a few hundred yards away outside the Ministry of Defence. I realise now that that brief flurry in the distance pails in comparison to sitting in the site hut in Gibraltar three years ago as a Tornado fighter jet warmed up less than 100 yards away. Noise that stops your brain working.

Two friends came to visit the fort on Thursday. As I showed them around both girls questioned the need for the armed guards. In a city where every significant road junction and building has police and/or army presence, for whom my safety is not necessarily their main priority, I am reassured that there are a few well trained locals who are keeping an eye out for me.

One Aussie I spoke to last week has been here three years. In Kabul that is veteran status. Used to keeping busy I am looking for longer term interests. Skiing in the Hindu Kush and duck shooting in the Panshir Valley are the best I’ve heard so far. Not to mention that there are some pretty tempting peaks visible from my room – minefields notwithstanding. Unfortunately my new love, a Ducati motorcycle will stick out like Pamela Anderson on Baywatch so will have to stay in London for the time being.

My industrious site foreman Nural Hak perusing a problem

My industrious site foreman Nural Hak perusing a problem

Building – I’ve now spent two weeks on site and the learning curve has been steep. The site itself is relatively small, the design and function relatively simple, and the workers are keen when motivated. However it is the level of negotiation and discussion that my day to day work involves that surprises me. I am used to difficult clients and distrustful communities suspicious of greed or egocentrics but the local counter-current is founded on a wariness of the visitor, even those working here for years. Already rewarding, real progress will come by building relationships and proving non-traditional approaches such as insulating walls we are prototyping.

I am reading a book about an American climber who, returning from a failed attempt on K2, took a wrong turn and wandered into a mountain village. Helped by their instinctive hospitality in returning him to health he then realises that he can help both himself and the village by building them a school. As work progresses steadily he encourages the workers to speed up and complete the building before winter arrives. The advice the village leader gives him is to allow the work to proceed at the pace mountain life has done forever – with slow consideration.

Soon there will be bigger politics to worry about with national elections in August.

On Wednesday ten of us celebrated my 33rd birthday with a meal and a drink in town. On Thursday night, the end of the Afghan working week, we had a party at a friend’s house in a part of town popular with those who live out of organised accommodation. When that wound down we went around the corner to another party hosted by two British journalists one of whom, Jon Boone is cousin to Jos. With over a dozen shiny 4x4s parked outside along with their respective security contractor cum drivers it was not difficult to find. Another surprise was the 150 well-oiled guests to be found gathered within this security conscious, tee-total city. Those more concerned about their curfews start to leave after midnight. At 4am we say good bye to the dance floor, bid our generous host farewell and head off in a taxi.

Friday (Afghan weekend) is spent sweating out Thursday, first on the rowing machine and then in the Hamaam, our very own steam baths. Fired up on a Thursday evening it hits full heat by lunchtime and leaves me feeling almost human. On Saturday we walk the city walls that ridge-line the hills above Kabul. During the two hour walk you can begin to understand how and where the city’s 3-5 million people live and work as well as what it’s like to try and defend this lively region. Photos to follow once I work out how to get bluetooth working on my phone and laptop at the same time.

Many thanks to those who sent Birthday greetings as well as the comments left here and elsewhere.

Duncan DJ