Wednesday, 18 April 2007 / seshanbeh, 29 hamal 1386
The drainage ditch in the foreground is a pretty funky brew.
Today was very good. Before going over to the University I took a hike through Deh Mazang, a major and historic hillside settlement on the south side of Kuh-e Asmayi. When I post a map I will hyperlink this so you can see some reference points. But for now, just enjoy the images.
For those who have seen Fes, this is ‘the real thing’. This area has probably been inhabited for several hundred years, but most of the present housing is new. So the urban fabric here represents current processes of site selection, negotiation with neighbors, construction, and maintenance. And, frankly, I felt like I was being pretty intrusive walking here. Probably the near-exact social equivalent would be to walk into a suburban cul-de-sac in the United States and start taking photos. I refer to Americans specifically, because we are more private about our residential space than most Westerners. Here, the pattern fits what Ira Lapidus and Janet Abu-Lughod have described: ostensibly ‘public’ circulation routes become successively more private as one walks further into a neighborhood. A lot of people were watching me and calling out to their neighbors to check if anyone knew who I was.
As with the Byzantines, the full ‘habit’ in Afghanistan began as an upper-class fashion.
The kids, bless them, asked me directly. And they liked having their photos taken.
Other parts of Kabul ‘look’ modern, but to understand modernity is to see this place as the future, in many respects. Walkways, concrete drainage channels, piped water, and electricity are all being installed here. Mobile-phone reception is far better than anyplace in Berkeley. But one major concern I have is seismic threat. This is why I would like to help extend the Middle-east Earthquake Hazard Reduction initiative (MEHR) to Kabul.
In the background is the Lion’s Gate. Through that is the historic core of Kabul.
After my walk I attended a Spanish conversation class at the University. A friend of mine from 2003 is now a leading student in that department, so I tagged along to see how other programs in the University are running. The teacher, who is Argentine, was great! Unfortunately it was totally disorienting for me, because I only know English and some French; Italian words bubble up when I hear Spanish, and Farsi is grammatically similar to all of these, sitting somewhere between Spanish and English. Anyway, Josť teaches more than just words: he taught palabras de amor, which was cause for tremendous tension and nervous laughter as students were supposed to practice romantic dialogue.
At noon, I arrived back at the Engineering Faculty to find Fahim Hakim, the professor of design, discussing a new walkway with the students. Since the University seems to have no immediate plan to improve the area around the Engineering building, the students bought a truckload of pavers and were preparing to design-build a walkway. For want of formal action, planning becomes anarchic–which is not to say chaotic, but rather that it is the product of peer-to-peer negotiation. It is about as far from top-down imposition as possible.
Then, after a spirited negotiation with some fifth-year class members, I persuaded them to set aside Thursday mornings for field trips. If all goes well, we are going to tromp all over this city in the next few months.
Left: I stayed in that corner-tower on my first night back in Kabul. Pretty snappy!
Right: next week is a national holiday, so lots of helicopters doing low flights.
Reminds me of Pueblo ruins against the New Mexico sky.
The Paghman Mountains, to the west, make for dramatic sunsets.
Deh Mazang intersection is pretty lively. However, many major buildings along the street are only partly repaired, whereas one block off the main street on either side is much more new construction. Perhaps high-value property is the hardest to act upon.