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Update from Asgabat, May 15, 2004

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  • chapinr75081
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , May 18, 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 adventures—like 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 relatives—cousins
      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
      beautiful work.

      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.
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