Warm weather and a power vacuum

16 01 2010

View of winter weather and the Firth of Forth from my parents house in Fife

Whilst the weather in the UK brought everyone to their knees I returned to a very mild Afghan climate on Wednesday. The contrast to British reactions is that people are worried that without snow or rain the summer will be very tough. I bring my own disappointment as I carried my ski boots from Fife hoping to replicate my two days skiing in Glencoe and Glenshee. Without exaggeration I can say that the powder snow I shared with just 50 other skiers in Glencoe is some of the best snow I have experienced.

For those who favour the pictures on my blog the good news is that I return from Christmas with a decent camera so the quality of images will improve.

Meanwhile the building sites are reduced in personnel but reassuringly progress has continued despite international staff taking leave for their Christmases across the world. The ground floor walls, built from mud bricks with integrated timber frames, are nearly complete and carpentry workshop in the basement has progressed well. Elsewhere on site we have set up a window-making workshop where they are making 15-20 windows a day. Finding dry pine wood has been difficult but the current weather means wetter wood ordered now should be ready by mid-summer.

Relatively security has been quiet but politics has started to affect the project as only 8 of the 24 ministers proposed to parliament have been approved so the people of Afghanistan wait to see who will lead its ministries. Many of our ministry contacts have not even gone to work stalling on important decisions that may well delay our programme.

Speculative reasons for this power vacuum is that the parliamentary committee, made up of regionally elected officials, is taking this high profile opportunity to prove to the people that they have power and are able to stand up to Karzai. This has also meant that a relatively unknown group has been elevated to centre of the media stage. This may be an incentive for them to delay approving Karzai’s selection of ministers further.

The alternative, currently more of a conspiracy theory, is that Karzai actually wants parliament to continue to delay this process allowing him to eventually end up with a weak government except in the key ministerial posts already filled. This will leave him with even great power than prior to the election but a shortfall around the table at the conference on Afghan development in London at the end of January.

This follows the election fiasco as yet another set of uncertain circumstances and confusion such as Karzai submitting a completely new set of 17 ministers rather than looking to propose original candidates but for alternative ministries. Additionally one of his new candidates appears to be underage yet parliament is still to vote on his appointment. As long as Karzai continues to go through the motions of setting up a bona fide government he answers calls to comply with pre-election promises although the most recent line-up seems to revert to rewarding bulk votes and political connection with ministerial positions.

I am going to do picture guides to how we build on site in Murad Khane. Look out for Afghaniman and more photographs next week.



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