Without Stones

Afghan brickmakers during Ramadan

After a month and a half of being embedded with the U. S. Army’s 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne in the volatile and kinetic area of the Arghendab Valley within the Kandahar province, I returned to Kabul.

It is the last two weeks of August, and Ramadan has just begun. Most of the fighting in the country is slowing down, and the coalition forces of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) are reorganizing and refitting for a series of new operations that will take place after the end of the holy month.

Muslims are not eating nor drinking from dusk to dawn as they follow the rigid dietary dictates of the religious month. In Kabul life has considerably slowed down, and I decided to use my friend’s local “fixer” to drive me around the outskirts of the Afghan capital to see the sights.

The city is contoured by a series of security checkpoints, once controlled by NATO forces, now in the hands of the newly trained and very controversial Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP).

Many of the roads and highways that connect Kabul with other bigger cities around the country might be considered as one of the main travel arteries to the capital, with the exception of the oldest one: the road from Bagram, which strategically holds the second biggest American and NATO Base after Kandahar Airfield.

The first thing that hits you as you drive through the dusty Shomali plains, framed by mountains, is the war economy. All along the road out of Kabul are huge container depots and trucks, either on their way to Bagram or returning. Most of the trucks are from Pakistan, marked by brightly decorated exteriors that have become a typical art form of the road, the only art form.

The U.S. military transports everything from food and liquids to the armored vehicles they use to fight the war. There is nothing the military can source from Afghanistan. Everything that enters the country is rerouted through here.

"Everything comes from Pakistan; the Taliban also come from Pakistan," the local fixer tells me as we wait for a long line of trucks to pass us in a cloud of dust. 

Forty minutes outside the city we stop along the road as my eye is captured by a series of chimneys emitting dark smoke. As we get closer and get off the highway, we enter a deserted area on the edge of the Shomali plain were a group of brick makers struggle to earn enough to live.

These men produce with their bare hands more then a thousand bricks a day under unbearable heat with no food or water.

The bricks are made out of sand, clay and water, and the brick-making process is long and tedious. First, mud is carted on wheelbarrows then mixed with sand. The mixture is then pressed into molds and left to dry in the sun before the bricks are baked in makeshift ovens for 24 hours. These last ones are more durable, but twice as expensive as they necessitate the use of burning coal. In the end, these bricks are used the construction of homes in and around Kabul.

Life is hard for the Afghans who work here on the outskirts of Kabul. Many of them live in crumbling mud huts surrounded by a wasteland littered with smoke-spewing chimney stacks, and they can’t afford the bricks they make. Work starts after the morning prayers and ends with the sunset prayers.

I had only one question for them:what was the reason they were working as brick makers? One of them answered: "…he who is without stones, makes bricks."

Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini currently lives in New York City were he works as a freelance photographer, video editor, DP with the most creative minds in the editorial and photographic world. His work has appeared in Paris Match, Conde Nast, and The Atlantic. To view Sebastiano’s work, please visit, www.sebastianotomada.com

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