Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Designed by the Soviets, bombed out by the Taliban

The World Bank is interested in having USAID retrofit (or rebuild) the Technical Vocational Training Centre in Kabul. After a meeting at the Ministry of Education with the World Bank and USAID, we took a short trip to visit the site. The first words that came out of my mouth when I stepped out of the car were "Holy shit". The guy with the World Bank turned to me and said, "Those were my first words too"

This is the layout of the campus. The school buildings were designed by Soviet architects and engineers (even though it was before the invasion of '79) and built in 1973. It wasn't until 1992 and 1993 when it suffered major damage from Taliban takeover. Amazingly, classes are still being held here. As we walked through the building, most classrooms were full of students. There is no running water, no power and only a temperately dry toilet block that was built in the past year for all of the 1000+ students that study and live here.

About to enter the campus.

The main classroom building

This is the column that was blown out, must have been from an RPG (rocket propelled grenade). The beam that intersects it is still hanging there, supporting the concrete slab above, and most likely students in a classroom too.

Blown out beam, not sure how this happened. like I said, classes are still being held here. Even the precast concrete panels above are blown out.

Another column

no joke, this is used as a bell. An old mortar shell

Main classroom building viewed from inside the courtyard. Does anyone know about Soviet structural engineering? This building is using a moment frame system but beams are only laid in the transverse direction, there are absolutely no beams in the longitudinal direction. Only the precast concrete panels span longitudinally. There are no shear walls in this building. Doesn't make sense. I'm looking forward to seeing the blueprints as the Ministry claims to have. Just hope it's not written Russian/Cyrillic.

The roof of the gym, a rocket blasted through the precast concrete roof panels.


Diving anyone?

The Cafeteria, which is in the best shape out of all of them.

And it is my job to determine if these buildings are salvageable? -- crap.

By the way, I didn't look at the dorms. From the main building I could see that most of the buildings are blown out from shelling. Most of the end walls were just gone. They're going to see the wrecking ball. And yet, people are living in there too.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Weekend in Kabul

Two BBQs...

...and lounging around in a kiddie pool on the roof.

There's not much else to do here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

US Embassy

I just came back from a meeting at the US Embassy, where USAID's main office is located. What a fortress.

After the meeting we walked back out to the round-a-bout, which is beyond the closed off access road, where we waited for our cars. Not the safest place to wait. Bunch of dressed up guys standing at an access point of the US Embassy in front of a busy round-a-bout, we looked like a prime target. As we were waiting, three black Ford Expeditions, with little weird radar thingys on the roofs and fully armed US military men in fatigues in the front seats, flew down the access road and entered the busy round-a-bout where they switched on their sirens. My colleague at UNOPS leaned over and said; "good, now they are the prime target". No pictures, cameras were not allowed.

Around town

Today I was able to see some of the town. The architect and I went to visit some of the school sites in Kabul. We also drove to some of the different areas in town. It's amazing, f--king amazing! I can't believe I'm here sometimes.

The Darulaman Palace, the old royal seat

This dude was stopping traffic so a Minister could exit his compound. The Minister isn't that nice of a guy either. His son was killed, which was bad, but then he sent his men out to kill 200 others in retaliation. And he's proud of it too.

Meat market, a real one, I'm not referring to Kabul's expat party scene.

Housing blocks

The Boys High School. A raft foundation is being dug. President Karzai studied here, so it's a high profile project.

Blown out building

The Soviet, I mean Russian Embassy. Speaking of, I've heard from my Pakistani colleague that many people now look back at the Soviet occupation of the 1980's in a little better light when compared to what followed. The government (or lack of) that came after the Soviets and before the Taliban did nothing to developed the country. It was anarchy, where warlords ruled the land, which in turn opened the door for the Taliban regime to move in the early 90's. At the very least, the Soviets tried to build up the country, cause the other two governments did jack squat. But then you got to look that Kabul's golden and stable age was the time after WW2 and before the Soviet invasion in 1979, so did the Soviets trigger this downward spiral by tearing the country apart with a ten year war?

The new Sardar Kabuli Girls High School. It's weird that I will be working with UNOPS again, but this time as USAID's advisor. I'm checking UNOPS' drawings and calculations for quality of design and meeting the US building codes.

The existing building on the Girls High School

Women on the street.

Melon shop. Most of these are imported from Pakistan

My office (near side), I share it with the QA Manager.

Albert! look what I found! Irn-Bru! in Kabul!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

First days in Kabul


Over Kabul

Finally here, just arrived two days ago. Stepping off the plane, I felt the cool air of being over a mile high in elevation. (compared to hot Dubai) I arrived just in time for the afternoon dust storm, which I understand is normal for this time of year. Cool winds blow down from the snowy mountains kicking up dust along the way. The city is greener than I thought; a number of streets are lined with trees with fresh bright spring leaves. Some reason I envisioned this place to be completely treeless. At the airport I was met by one of our staff that got me to bypass the normal immigration procedures, (bypassing the lines at passport control, and I didn't even have to fill out the normal immigration/customs forms, he just showed his government badge and I was able to cut in front of everybody (including the other expats that were on my plane) - nice!

Kabul Airport


The compound from my roof

The compound is a whole neighborhood cut off from the normal population. Armed guards block each of the streets that lead into the area. We share the area with the Japanese Embassy, the British Embassy is just across the main road. I haven't found where the American Embassy is yet, though I hear it is near. There are five buildings in the compound, three of which are guesthouses. There are full meals cooked by the staff. you can pick whatever you want, from steaks to (pork) bacon and eggs to fresh salads. Gyms are in each of the guesthouses, though mine is still being set up, since it was just converted from an office to residence. My room is great, large windows on two adjacent walls. The only thing is you have to get use to the diesel generators running 24/7. There is a power grid, but it's only on for 2 to 3 hours a day, on a good day. From my window and balcony, I can see the mountains, though since there was a dust storm, it was only visible at dusk.

My room

Kabul Heights

It's a small world
At dinner, where a lot of the expat staff got together, I met a girl from Fremont, California. Northern Californians unite. A

Friday is the off day
On Friday I went to meet up with a friend of friend of mine from Banda Aceh, another fellow Californian (he's from the Central Coast). I met him at a place called L'Atmosphere, an indoor/outdoor French restaurant set in a peaceful garden complete with swimming pool. From the street, you would have never thought something like this existed on the other side of the high wall. And to get in, you pass one armed guard where he knocks on a steel door, a small peek hole opens, then the door opens. I walk slowly into a small room with another armed guard. The door closes behind me, then this guard knocks on the next steel door and the whole routine repeats itself two more times before I find myself in a park-like garden. A full bar sits at the far end, tables are scattered inside and outside on the grassy lawn complete with wine glasses and china. People are drinking cocktails, wine and beer. I had a witbier (Belgium wheat beer)