Afghan Ingenuity


Most people who see this picture look at it and say “Now what they hey am I looking at, exactly?”

This extremely clever contraption was spotted by my friend, photographer and brilliant geographer, Zok Pavlovic, while we were out surveying Kuchi settlements in the Kabul area.

For those who are unfamiliar with Afghanistan, Kuchi are generally Pashtun nomads who tend to raise animals, and follow their grazing patterns and the seasons and live in tent.  “What are Pashtun?” you may ask. Well, Pashtun are an ethnic group that tend to live in the East and South of Afghanistan, as well as in the west of Pakistan.  Pashtun have historically tended to be warlike, and most of the actual fighting currently is in Pashtun areas.  But I digress.

This particular bit of elegant and efficiently inefficient mechanism is a water lift.  It is constructed of a lot of repurposed parts, to include a car axle, some salvaged pipe, a few agricultural discs to power the wheel, and regular food cans to catch the water and dump it into the box, which has a flanged hole that accepts a hose, or sluices the water into a stock tank or buckets that children bring.

Several people who see it who are urbanites from typical Western backgrounds mock it’s simplicity and inefficiency, claiming it delivers the water too slow, or only a little bit at a time.  Fortunately for the Kuchi who are using it, they have all the time in the world, and the water lift turns continuously, as long as there is water to turn it.

An efficiency expert could recommend a well-engineered and expensive solution, but the wheel continues to turn, and dump water into the cachement, and it cost nothing to make.



About hotmilkforbreakfast

I am a researcher, a writer, a former soldier, an academic and a lifelong learner. All text and pictures are copyrighted and are not to be used without express permission of the author.
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2 Responses to Afghan Ingenuity

  1. Adam says:

    For many reasons which are not overly relevant this article reminds me of a situation I was in there in Kabul back in ’08 on my 2nd trip to Afghanistan. I was working at ISAF HQ and was asked by my boss to look over the “refuse contract”, i.e. garbage pick-up, and see if it was ready to be sent out for re-competition. My boss asked that I specifically take a close look at the issue of recycling to ensure we were properly handling this issue. My initial thought was recycling in Afghanistan? Are you off your rocker sir? I only said yes no problem though and contacted the contracting officer and had them make an appointment for me to first determine how the current contractor was dealing with the waste materials. I felt this was a good starting point to determine a baseline. A few days later I met the contractor for a short meeting and then followed him out to the site where he sorted the waste. Initially I felt I was off to a good start, they had a site to separate the waste, and perhaps they were farther along in certain respects than I had appreciated. I could not have been more correct on that point. At the site the garbage trucks merely pushed the waste material onto the ground and a small army of workers sorted out all the glass, metal, copper wire, paper, plastic, tires, etc. The medical waste they did incinerate at the back of the site at the end of every day as well. Finally I asked what they did with the remaining food scraps and other similar detritus…the foreman pointed at a herd of approx 50-100 goats! He said that they used to burn those items with the medical waste however one day due to rain they were unable to do so, when the returned in the morning the “stuff” was all gone. There were goats nearby who were VERRY well fed and from that day on they made that the norm. Due to the value of materials, even newspapers, being more than the cost of labor they had already been recycling those items and sending them back to Pakistan in the back of what would have otherwise been empty trucks. We have to be so careful with our presumptions…

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