The brick makers of Dai Khudaidad still use the same methods they learned from their fathers and their grandfathers before them. Working entirely by hand, they mix the local soil with water and mold it into bricks that are then stacked over mud kilns and fired. On a plateau on the outskirts of Kabul, some 200 thimble-shaped kilns dot the rugged, brown landscape. It is grueling, backbreaking work. When the bricks are cooking, the fires must be stoked constantly, day and night, for nearly a week. Even on frigid January nights, a skeleton crew remains at the kiln, shoveling in wood that has been trucked in from the south. Business is slow now, because there is little construction in the winter. Still, there is plenty of work to be done and everybody here works seven days a week, year round. (They miss work only for weddings and funerals.) When spring rolls around, all 200 kilns will be active, spewing thick, black smoke into the air.
Even these laborers have not escaped the effects of 23 years of war in Afghanistan. At one point, their homes became a battleground, with rival factions lobbing rockets into the kilns. Security was better under the Taliban, but there was little business. Nobody was building. Now, they are anticipating a boon, after many years of drought. Repeatedly, they ask visitors to bring machines, so they can work even faster. "Machines can make 100,000 bricks a day; we make that in a month," says Zalodin, who owns one of the 200 kilns. Like most Afghans, they are trying to plan for a better future. -- Kevin Whitelaw