Custom-made stoves blend warmth, art in Kabul

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 23, 2009 

KABUL — When snow covers the mountains north of Kabul and temperatures drop below freezing, many residents of Afghanistan's capital rely on their bukhari stoves to heat their homes.

The stoves burn wood, sawdust, diesel fuel and kerosene. Each is made by hand.

Most of the stoves are made in a block in north Kabul, and as you approach it, a symphony of noise rises, beginning with a faint staccato that grows into a crescendo of every pitch — the sound of men working with metal as each component of each stove is carefully made.

Young boys rush about, ferrying parts through the 30 or so shops in the market. The men have decades of experience in the craft. Intricate designs are pressed into the sheet metal with rotary presses. Some men use tin snips to cut the razor-sharp metal. Others use hammers and metal chisels. Welds are made with manual soldering irons heated to a glowing red, dipped into the solder, then placed on the seams.

Some of the stoves will double as water heaters. They're fitted with water jackets and faucets. Others will do duty as cook stoves.

Business was slow but steady on a crisp Sunday morning when the temperature hovered just above freezing. An old man listened to a young boy's spiel but was unconvinced by the boy's earnest offer to fill the water jacket and demonstrate its "quality" watertightness. The man wandered off to listen to another vendor sing the praises of his stove.

Farwad Rasooli, 30, pitched his stoves' usefulness. "If you take one of these stoves you will have very good business," he urged. "Take this one with sawdust and this one with a boiler around to make warm water, put a little wood in it, your house, your room will be very warm."

With their ornate metalwork and handmade detail, the stoves border on art, all for about 2,000 afghanis, about $40 U.S.

(Liddy is a photographer for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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