Blast Wall Maker
“If business continues to grow, then Kabul will be very beautiful and very safe.”
My name Saboor Ramhimi
Since 2001, Kabul has witnessed radical change. The city has been transformed from a crumbling bullet riddled, bombed-out shell to a vibrant expanding modern city. Over the last two years, however, transformation has often become disfiguration. With the rising insurgency and increase in terrorist attacks a landslide of blast walls, fences and razor wire has engulfed the city. These structures aim to protect and deter the ‘enemies of Afghanistan’ from harming and destroying the capital’s key buildings. But they have a depressing side effect. The towering grey concrete structures that snake through the city centre obliterate the familiar landmarks and turn roads into narrow, walled-in tunnels. They help create an Orwellian mood of oppression that adds only to the general feeling that foreign forces are here to occupy the country and subjugate local culture, whatever the cost to ordinary people.
Saboor Ramhimi a 35-year-old business entrepreneur says it doesn’t have to be that way. He has set up a company called Earthworks which he thinks can keep both security freaks and those more concerned about the city’s visual environment happy. He constructs rammed earth adobe walls as a cost effective, natural alternative to the ugly, oppressive Hescos.
“They look like traditional Afghan compounds only they’re thicker and capable of withstanding bomb blasts,” says Saboor, whose business is booming (scuse the pun). The walls help clients de-militarise their compounds, and let potential ‘targets’ merge into their surroundings—an architectural version of camouflage. His first major client was the UN who commissioned him to rebuild the perimeter wall around UNICA. “I have jobs for many people now. Our company has a policy of hiring people from the local vicinity, mostly within less than one kilometre away.”
Like many Afghans though, things weren’t always so rosy. He fled the country in search of a better future, mostly just by putting one foot in front of each other, finally arriving in the UK. Ironically for someone who would go on to build barrier walls to keep unwanted people out, he spent most of his time behind barbed wire walls designed to keep unwanted people in. He was arrested around half a dozen times on his journey through Europe.
“Three times in Turkey, twice in Greece and France and then I was finally arrested in Wales working illegally at a Dominoes Pizza Parlour in Barry Island.”
The British deported him back to yet another prison, this time in Kandahar, where he eventually escaped by climbing over a wall.
When I asked him about the future he is typically fatalistic. Even though he is earning good money and has recently bagged himself a wife he won’t look too far forward. “I don’t think about the future because every time it is changing”. The one thing he is confident about is what his walls can achieve—more than ISAF and Karzai have managed between them. “If business continues to grow, then Kabul will be very beautiful and very safe”.