Growing up in the shadow of the Crescent City, we made many trips to New Orleans. As a youngster I marveled at the age of buildings and infrastructure, long before I knew those words, in New Orleans. Many times I wondered where its allure as city came from. Years later I discovered, or more accurately was able to describe, that its charm came from its decadence. Debauchery aside, the decay, the age, the smell of rotted wood, stale beer and more stale urine add to the charm of the city nearly as old as my hometown. Many times I wondered if there was an Old Home Depot or maybe a Lowe-er's that stocked half-rotted, mildewed wood and buckets of faded paint to feed the need for repairs to the decaying town. I still suspect there is some Hysterical Society or architectural group that keeps modern glass and non-iron fences from being used in the more charming parts of the town.
Arriving in Kandahar I found a different type of decay.
Most buildings the Corps has built or are repairing in Afghanistan, whether Afghan or Soviet design, appear to be cement masonry unit construction covered with plaster. To the uninitiated, a CMU is a cinder block and the plaster would appear almost as stucco. Really it's a form of concrete that covers the blocks so that it appears to be of the same mud construction that the smaller buildings and a majority of the fences are. When I discover a better reason than just architectural similarity I will let you know because I seriously doubt that is the reason, and yet buildings everywhere in this country are constructed the same. Then painted a similar shade of yellow.
The airport in Kandahar is old-school styled design. Large masonry arches over spaces with massive interior columns and huge exterior walls. All appear to be brick or CMU type covered in plastered, aggregate-free concrete. This old building has giant cracks and chunks taken in ragged portions from its magnificent interior facade. The building shows both its age, its character, its resiliency, and the face of decades of fighting. If these walls could talk they would talk of rockets, grenades, and bombs of all sorts. The story would seem endless and most definitely dry but its voice would share the war weariness of the country.
And yet it stands still. Defiant, deliberate, damaged but not destroyed.
I spent two days and one night in Kandahar and it was the first spot I had to really begin working. Not that I had projects to oversee, but the first person I met was one of my staff going on R&R. He picked me up and brought me to the Corps Compound in Kandahar. There I met some folks I had talked with telephonically, electronically, and not at all. The support staff for the District that handles the contracts, the construction, the logistics, the operations, and everything in between. I was paraded past a Who's Who of District personnel. Mnemonically I tagged them associating their role to the same role in my home District. My head had been spinning because of the trip, now it was spinning because of why I made the trip.
Kandahar began my real introduction to the work of rebuilding Afghanistan. While simultaneously showing me its stubborn streak. We should get along well, Afghanistan and I.