Where is Oqa located? How could I find it?
You would take a road north of Mazar-e-Sharif, drive about an hour, then take a left turn, and drive for about 30 minutes and hope you're not lost in the
desert. And there will be Oqa--maybe! It's not on the map. I have spoken to officials in Mazar-e-Sharif who tried to convince me that it actually does not
exist. You can't find it on Google Earth.
Can you talk about the title, "The World is a Carpet"? What does that mean?
A lot of books written about Afghanistan in the last 10-12 years by Westerners have been us looking in. I wanted this to be about a book about Afghans
looking out. Looking out of their homes, looking out of the crowded bus, looking out from the back of a donkey.
You also quote someone in your book who thinks that the earth is like a carpet, with four corners.
We're talking about people who don't have a lot of understanding of what the world is. That's the literal interpretation. Most Afghans are illiterate. So
the idea that the world is not a square, for example, is not very popular or very common. But what I was trying to convey is a different way of looking at
Can you talk briefly about the path the carpet takes?
First, the men go to the market and buy carpet yarn. The weaver, a woman, creates a loom with two broad sticks or beams, and weaves a carpet squatting down
on top of that loom. Depending on how much time she spends working and how large the carpet is going to be, it can take between four months and a year. In
this case, it was from March to September. Then the carpet travels first back to the dealer who sold the yarn, then they will go to another dealer who will
maybe reach out again either to a dealer in Kabul or put it on the back of a truck and send it to Turkey to Istanbul, where there's a huge market for
carpets, or send it by bus or truck to Pakistan where there's another global market for carpets. Or the carpet will go to Kabul and will be stuffed into an
airplane and fly to Dubai, and then from Dubai to Germany or England or the United States. The United States is the largest global purchaser of carpets. A
lot of the carpets in Afghanistan end up here in this country with a gigantic markup. A weaver will get two or three hundred dollars for their work, which
comes out to about 40 cents a day. Here, the carpets would cost between $5,000 and $20,000.
What was your daily life like?
I just stood and took notes, sketched in my sketchbook. My day was uneventful. The women would wake up and have breakfast with her family, make sure her
children are clothed and fed and she would adjust her headscarf to the nape of her neck and squat on top of the loom and start weaving. Break for lunch,
then weave again until it got dark. Because there's no electricity her weaving hours are very much tied to the hours of daylight available. It would've
been way too costly to spend kerosene for a lamp to weave. So weaving takes place during the day. And her friends would come in, start weaving with her,
tell jokes, gossip, and sometimes there would be a wedding she would go to for a couple of weeks in a different village. It would be wrong to portray this
as excruciating slavery, because it is not. It's the way of life. The weaver knows how to protect herself from self-destruction, but it's very hard work.
It's extraordinarily taxing on your body because you're squatting all day. You develop muscle aches, and in the absence of any medicine, most women take
tiny bits of opium and dissolve it in their morning tea to alleviate those aches. The woman whose carpet I watched being created, her father-in-law
wouldn't allow her to take opium, he thought it was bad for you. So she just suffered her pain.