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Come into my container

Zarwali Khoshnood
They hardly enchant you from the outside, but come inside small businessman Sultan Mohammad Mangal's container rooms, feast your eyes on the velvet interiors, send an email or take a nap on the kingsize bed.
30.01.2013  |  Khost
Entrepreneurial edge with a frilly finish: Most design whims can be incorporated in the rooms, from boardroom table to kitchen range.   (Photos: Khoshnood)
Entrepreneurial edge with a frilly finish: Most design whims can be incorporated in the rooms, from boardroom table to kitchen range.   (Photos: Khoshnood)
Eighteen years ago, Sultan Mahmud journeyed to Saudi Arabia in search of work, any work, to support his family. He ended up in XXXX, where XXXXXX hired as a labourer first???, assembling container rooms XXXX
For X years he earned around XXX month, a low wage even by, but at the same time gathering a  wealth of transferable skills and ideas. Once he felt he was proficient in this type of construction, he returned to his native Khost Province in XXX and opened his own business on the main road to Gardez. 
QQ??"I was hesitant at first to start up a container room company in case I couldn't find enough customers," Mahmud recalls. "Now people come to us with requests to their own specifications and I can't keep up with all the orders because I get more each day. God willing, business will keep building up." QQQ
So far so good, he adds. In five months of business he has sold 100 units, and with each on average costing 25,000 afghanis (486 dollars), before a variety of optional extra facilities and trimmings are fitted.  
Serving as office premises, or for habitation, leisure or ablutions, the rooms are assembled from welded box steel frames covered with aluminium metal sheeting imported from Pakistan and the Middle East. They are resistant to the elements, panelled with plywood and rendered more functional or homely with any or all of the following: sliding double glazed windows, toilet, shower, cupboards, beds. a veranda and internet connections and a satellite dish.
The container rooms may lack the presence and prestige of bricks and mortar, or the strength and  security of the fortress-like mud walled compounds that proliferate in Khost. But people have latched onto the economy and convenience, which lends itself to the design whims of customers. Containers can also be stacked on top of each other form floors if needed.
"They are cheap compared to rooms built with bricks, stones and cement," says Mahmud, warming to his advertizing spiel. He also points out that there is simply not enough skilled labour in the province to create an affordable competitive market for standard construction techniques. Most craftsmen and labourers still specialize in work in mud construction. 
One of his neighbours, Gulmohammad Khan bought two containers from him for 23,000 afghanis each to build a guesthouse by his home. He is more than happy with his purchase, which he says is useable all year round. "Its benefit is twofold, it is warm in the winter and cool in the summer," he says.
There is a snag, however. Since this is a new type of premises or abode, there is still no regulation of its sale or use. But as soon as he works out the issue of licencing with the provincial authorities, Mahmud says he will take on apprentices and branch out in other provinces. "We have this chance now to put our abilities to the test."

Eighteen years ago, Sultan Mohammad Mangal journeyed to the Middle East in search of work, any work, to support his family. He eventually landed in Kuwait, where he was hired as a fitter, assembling multi-purpose container rooms from metal panels.

Over the years he attained a monthly wage of more than 1,700 US dollars and a wealth of transferable skills and ideas. In 2012 he decided to take a chance, return to his native Khost Province and open up the “Sultan Mohammad Moblle Room Co”, even as many of his fellow countrymen were busy moving assets out of the country. 

"I was hesitant at first to start up a container room company in case I couldn't find enough customers," the 36-year-old businessman recalls at his premises on the main road to Gardez,. "Now people come to us with their own design specifications and I can't keep up with all the orders because I get more each day."

So far so good. In five months of trade he sold 100 units, each on average costing 25,000 afghanis (486 US dollars) before a variety of optional extra facilities and trimmings are fitted.  

All tastes catered to

Interior frames and raised floors are built using box steel.

Serving as office premises, or for habitation, leisure or ablutions, the rooms are assembled from welded box steel frames covered with aluminium metal sheeting imported from Pakistan and the Middle East.

They are resistant to the elements, panelled with plywood and are rendered more functional or homely with sliding double glazed windows, toilet, shower, cupboards, beds. a veranda and internet connections and a satellite dish. They can also be built on top of each other.

The container rooms may lack the presence and prestige of bricks and mortar, or the strength and security of the fortress-like mud walled compounds that proliferate in Khost. But people have latched onto the economy and convenience, and the fact they can design them themselves. 

"They are cheap compared to rooms built with bricks, stones and cement," says the director, warming to his advertizing spiel.

He also feels he has found a niche because of the lack of skilled local labour to create an affordable, competitive market for quality construction techniques. Most craftsmen and labourers in Khost still specialize in mud construction. 

Catching on 

Container salesman in KhostIntent on success: Sultan Mohammad Mangal plans to expand beyond Khost.

Mangal too built his family a conventional house from mud and concrete after they relocated to Khost. He then added a container room guesthouse that caught the eye of his neighbour.

Gulmohammad Khan promptly bought two rooms for under a thousand dollars to serve as his own guesthouse and is delighted with his purchase, which he says serves well through the seasons. "It is win-win, warm in the winter and cool in the summer," he says.

And very easy to move from place to place, adds the constructor, who employs 50 people in a business that shows no signs of slowing.

There is a snag, however. Since this is a new type of premises or abode, there is still no regulation of its sale or use. But as soon as the issue of licencing is resolved with the Khost authorities, the company plans to take on apprentices and branch out in other provinces.

Leap of faith

Palatial touch: This upholstered container room ceiling boasts angled panelling, recessed lighting and a ventilation fan. 

The media now carry constant reports about the flow of Afghan assets and specialists out of the country as fears grow about the future beyond 2014. Conversely, numbers of people bringing skills and capital home from abroad are fewer.

In these early days of trade, Mangal knows his income might have been higher if he'd started up in Kuwait instead. But he felt compelled to come home, even in such uncertain times, and says he has no plans to move away again.

“I know there might be risk after 2014 and I know a lot of people are investing outside the country, but I want to have the pride of serving Afghans," says the businessman.

"A lot of other people have also invested in this country and I believe Afghans have changed. Businesses like this might help prevent them from being sucked back into war.”

 

From small acorns; Sultan Mohammad's container room business in Khost