Update from Asgabat, May 15, 2004
- The lastest news from Sharon Sugarek in Turkmenistan.
Buying Carpets in Turkmenistan
When I first came to Turkmenistan I did not know much about buying
handmade carpets although I had a passing interest in Oriental rugs.
But Turkmenistan is famous for its beautiful carpets and I have had a
wonderful opportunity to learn a lot about how they are made and how
to look for quality. And needless to say I have had ample opportunity
to spend money on beautiful hand made carpets I will enjoy for the
rest of my life.
Traditionally, Turkmen carpets are red. The different tribes make
their own patterns and carpets are an important part of the culture
and the wealth of a family, especially a bride.
I can now go to Tolkuchka (the big Sunday market in the desert) and
look at carpets and tell which ones are better quality by how they are
made and how they feel. Turkmen carpets are made here of course but
they are also made in Afghanistan, which has about 200,000 Turkmen
living there and there are some Turkmen living in Iraq as well. So the
traditional patterns find their way into rugs from all of these
places. If you look on the Internet you will find more information
about Turkmen carpets from Afghanistan than from here. But the
explanations of the origins of the patterns are very good.
So the big adventure has been the ordering and production of a custom
carpet for my mother's den. Jeren is a lovely Turkmen woman from whom
I buy most of my carpets. She has consistently high quality and
beautiful and unusual patterns. She sometime has carpets made with
natural dyes and also beautiful silk carpets. She has lots of ways to
get my money! But every buy is a wonderful value for a piece of art!
For months she and I looked for a carpet that would fit my mother's
den. But it had to be 11'2" wide, not a standard size. So finally we
decided to order the carpet. But that involves picking out the basic
pattern, the colors for the basic pattern, the various borders, since
the borders are quite elaborate. The next step is to cross ones
fingers and hope that it will all turn out okay! It was a daunting
task for me. What if what I picked did not look good? What if my
mother didn't like the pattern I chose? What if the colors weren't
right? But, one evening Jeren and I and Enesh (our receptionist and
my partner is shopping and other adventureslike the camel market!)
sat and drank tea and discussed this project while we looked through
piles of carpets to get ideas. (And of course I bought a smaller
carpet for some other room.) This carpet was to have a beige
background and have a Tekke pattern that I really like and have in the
first carpet I ever bought here which will go in my den when I get
home! This pattern looks wonderful in large carpets. So the project
was launched with some fear and trepidation.
So in January Jeren went to her home village of Baharden about 100
kilometers from Ashgabat to order this carpet. Jeren is from Baharden
and the ladies who made the carpet are some distant relativescousins
of one sort or another. So for two and half months ten women have
worked two shifts a day to make this carpet for my mother's house.
Last month I took a trip to Baharden to meet the women who have been
working on this wonderful carpet. These young women range in age from
15 to 20 years old and all are unmarried. As they explained to me, the
unmarried women have more time to work on carpets than the married
women. The children finish school here when they are fifteen and most
girls in the villages learn to make carpets while in their teens. So
these young women had worked very hard for two and a half months to
make this lovely carpet. I am happy to report that the carpet is
gorgeous and the quality is excellent. I am sure my mother will love it.
When I arrived in Baharden, with Jeren, Ensh and two other Americans
form my staff, we met six of the ten young women who made the carpet
plus the older women who seemed to be the supervisor and provided the
workspace in her compound where the carpet was made. Carpet making is
still a cottage industry here in Turkmenistan although the government
does run several carpet factories (where the carpets are still
hand-made). I like buying from the individual makers and usually the
quality of the product is better from individuals.
When we arrived all of the young women were dressed in their finest
dresses. They knew we would be taking photos and wanted to look their
best. At first they were a bit shy but they enjoyed taking photos and
explaining about how they made the carpet. We took photos of them
holding the carpet and showing how they tied the fringe on the edge.
And we took some photos of them working on a smaller carpet there in
the workroom. My mother's carpet filled the entire workroom. (Luckily
they had taken a photo while they were making the carpet to show it
filling the entire space!) They wanted us to see this so they took us
down the street to another workroom where a very large carpet was in
progress so we could see what it looked like. In all we had a
wonderful time as they showed us all about how they do their work. I
had invited Marjie, our Medical Officer, and Ruth, our Administrative
Office to go along with Enesh (our receptionist at the office) and
Jeren and her husband. We were quite a party!
After we talked about the carpet and talked to the young women, wrote
down their names and gave them a small gift of chocolates, we went
inside the house to have tea and talk. The women were shy at first and
hesitated to talk. So I told them about Peace Corps and we talked
about a young woman PCV who had lived in Baharden for a few months.
They told me that the American woman wore pants and had a backpack and
that was odd. (Here in traditional villages, women do not wear pants
and only children carry backpacks for their schoolbooks.) One of the
young women is related to a neighbor of the family where the PCV had
lived but none of these women had ever met an American before. And
this day they had three of them visiting! After they lost a little of
their shyness, we talked about their lives and what they did. And we
had a lovely visit. Enesh told me later that the young women had
really enjoyed getting to know us and Enesh was sure they were going
to tell their families and friends about us and how nice and friendly
we were to them. This cross-cultural outreach is what Peace Corps is
all about. We just did it by buying a carpet!
They were proud of the work they had done and were very glad that I
was so pleased with the carpet. It was a delightful and very
successful visit on many levels. While we were talking I also learned
that the first carpet I bought in Turkmenistan, a 10' by 13' deep red
traditional Turkmen carpet, was made by these same young women. I am
so pleased to know they made this carpet as well. They do such
I also promised that when I return to the US and the carpet is
installed in my mother's house I will take a photo and send it to them
so they can see it in America. I explained all about where the carpet
was going and about Texas and about my folks. They asked how old my
parents are and I told them and explained that my parents would enjoy
this carpet for a very long time because they are quite young. They
thought that was very good and are looking forward to seeing the
photos from Texas. I explained that it would be at least a year before
they would get them but I'm not sure they believed me. Later I had
the photos of our visit there printed and sent them copies. Photos are
highly valued here.
So that's it for having a carpet made. Hope you enjoy the story.
Note: to see the pictures go to the NTPCA Yahoo site, open "Photos"
and view the Turkmenistan file.