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Rebuilding Akokolacha

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To add irony to this crash course in aid delivery, I was caught in the crossfire of Afghan and American notions of how I should be working. An independent film crew making a documentary on the Akokolacha project began questioning my attitude: Why wasn't I more sympathetic to the villagers' desires? Wasn't I imposing my Western image of an Afghan village on them?

In my other ear, Abdullah was remonstrating in the opposite vein: "Why do you keep listening to these thieving villagers? Will you just let me run this job?"

Through it all, trenches were dug, and wizened stonemasons were deftly choosing pieces of rock to Rubiks-together into solid, mortarless foundations.

Abdullah came to me one September morning: "There's a problem with the stone for Akokolacha. Gul Agha's soldiers stopped our tractor. "

"Zu," I said, "Let's go." And we headed for our battered black Toyota Land Cruiser and the quarry that held stone needed for Akokolacha's new foundations.

The road there cleaves a dun-colored wasteland of rock and clay, hardened by the punishing sun. Only a fleet of nappy-haired camels, some sheep combing a parched field, and the patchwork tents of impoverished nomads break the monotony. Up a sandy track to a hollow in the flank of some rocky hills, we found the quarryman's son.

"Bikhi bad sarai," he said. A "very bad man" had come with a Kalashnikov-toting tough, twisted a fistful of collar under the young man's chin, and warned that no one was to take foundation stone from the quarry. The "bad man" was the nephew of Gul Agha Shirzai, the governor of Kandahar Province. The nephew and the governor's brother, it emerged, are opening a gravel plant next to the old quarryman's operation. The governor's kin had snatched the old quarryowner's contract with the US military base for the large amounts of gravel and stone it requires. And the former quarryoperator was no longer allowed to sell any stone or gravel at all.

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