My father is an architect, and loves restoration projects. The preservation of historical buildings in particular. I have fond memories of walks around job sites. Collecting odd bits of wood for my ‘workshop’ at home. The smell of sawdust, and the sound of hammers and circular saws. The fun of a framed out building seeing from one room to the other through the two by fours.
Today I was fortunate to be guided around the oldest preservation project in Kabul. Murad Khane in old Kabul. This is a project that falls under the guidance of Turquoise Mountain and is restoration and preservation at its very core. Murad Khane is at the heart of Kabul and was a bustling commercial center. The area has fallen into disrepair over the last century, it has no sewage, and buildings collapse weekly. This particular restoration project includes the Peacock House and the old bazaar. Employing master tradesmen and training apprentices to recreate and restore when possible the intricate woodwork and plastering, while installing water and sewage, the bazaar will house businesses and artisans specializing in historic crafts.
My joy was the intimate viewing of this work in progress. Walking through the job site I felt right at home, even if the cessation of work and extensive staring illustrated the point that I was the only woman there. These buildings are all made of clay and mud and great piles of it were on the ground, men shoveling it to keep it moist and the right mix. A unique smell when mixed in with the open sewers and sawdust from the woodwork restoration. Suddenly my headscarf wasn’t a burden as I wrapped one end of it across my nose and mouth when particularly strong wafts hit me.
The construction coordinator and project engineer handed me back and forth as they showed me around, up and down narrow stairwells through rooms and onto balconies as the bazaar’s buildings are mostly interconnected as they are built around three separate courtyards. Yet the icing came in the form of ascending one last narrow spiral stone staircase to find myself on the roof with all of Kabul stretched out in front of me, just three stories up. The maze of the bazaar and the restoration project itself became clearer as we walked from rooftop to rooftop looking down into the courtyards below. Free reign to stare and will instead of moving through scenes trying to take it in at a brisk pace. Safe from prying eyes and the security issues that accompany it for a short while. Children fighting with a small dog. Women hustling through with their shopping. Men praying in an open window. Men pissing down the alley. It was all there to be taken in.
The second part of my day brought my feeling of having my father alongside me even closer. Najibullah had brought his son, Mustaffah, with us today and he had waited patiently in the car all day through all of our meetings. The reward? We bought two kites and some string and headed up to the hill overlooking Kabul to fly some kites.
My father loves kites. He has trick kites and great big ones that resemble the ones used for kiteboarding that could drag you along for miles if the wind is strong. I could imagine he would be as excited as Mustaffah at the upcoming prospect of catching some wind. Afghanistan’s national pastime is kite flying, and most boys grow up flying kites, or running them when kite fighting. Every Friday, families come to this spot on the hill where the wind is strong and the space is open to fly their kites. Many will coat their kite strings with a powdered glass for kite fighting. Kids will duel in the air and aim to cut the other’s kitestring with their own. If the string is cut, it is lost, and its ‘finders keepers’ for the first one to get the loose kite. No crying allowed.
So, Najibullah and his son flew the kites and enjoyed some father/son time while I watched thinking of my own father and how this day was stamped all over with his spirit.
Photo by Di Zinno