August 31, 2011
Nepal has always stood in my mind as a mysterious land with soaring mountains. But, until planning for this trip, if you had asked me where it was on a map, i would only be able to point vaguely towards Asia. So let's clear that up first. Nepal is the tiny slice of cheese sandwiched by its big important neighbors India and China. It's that thing in dark blue.
Kathmandu is Nepal’s political and cultural capital. It is stunning. The tiny winding streets and passageways are littered with life—with people, mopeds, bicycles and cows competing for each inch of space. And in the heart of this only vaguely controlled chaos lies Durbar Square. It is here where the kings were once crowned and where they ruled. While the kings and elephant stables are no more, their spectacular legacy lives on through the Square’s brilliant architecture.
Now it's hard to imagine with this rich history that today Nepal is one of the poorest countries of the world, with over a quarter of its population living on less than $2 a day. But hidden behind the winding allies of Durbar Square is the key to change. We were led through the dark passageways by a representative of our local partner organization, Women’s Entrepreneur’s Association of Nepal or more simply WEAN (They are a group of woman doing amazing work to lift the status of of their "sisters" in Nepal). There are no names for the dark passageways, so a guide was essential! We took lefts then rights then rights and lefts, ducking the whole while until we arrived at a small courtyard where we were greeted by a smiling face.
This is Urmila. She and her husband Ratna come from a long line of jewelry makers. She is at least a fifth-generation jewelry artisan. We were honored to spend the afternoon with Urmila and her family learning both about the art of jewelry making and life in Nepal.
Urmila and Ratna have two sons. Their younger son Saurav was with us and watched eagerly as his parents explained the jewelry making process. We asked Urmila what was her dream for her children. She said, “My husband and I are the only ones who still carry on our family jewelry tradition. I would like my sons to continue the tradition, and my dream? My dream is for them to get a high education and to grow the business outside of this small room, to export outside of Nepal and see and learn the things that we can only image.” “But,” Urmila said with a brief moment of hesitation, "only if that is what my sons want to do.” I turned to Saurav saying, “So, is that what you want too?” He responded smiling shyly, “Yes, I will be proud to keep our traditions alive."
Urmila and her husband are hard at work creating pieces inspired by Nepal. We can’t wait to get them and share them with you!
April 15, 2011
As we blogged earlier, we were beyond thrilled to learn that the Swiss government agreed to sponsor our suzani revival project in Tajikistan. (That’s the country next to Afghanistan, Pakistan and China). And now the crazy dream to take back the suzani tradition from the history books and bring pride and economic empowerment to a strong but forgotten people is becoming a reality...
We will be led on this journey by the inimitable Nigora. Nigora does crazy things in her commitment to craft, like traveling right through the middle of battlefields to connect with people preserving their ancient traditions (I’m serious, she was just in Kabul. Yes, as in Kabul, Afghanistan).
So without further ado, I bring you the first in what we hope will be a series of updates and the start of a conversation. The journey begins setting off for Pamir, the Tajik mountain range.
If you have any questions or comments, we would really love your participation. This project is very much in process and your questions, comments or thoughts inspire our work, Nigora's work and most importantly the artisans’ work. The internet is everywhere and they do see this feedback and we will get their responses to you.
Pamir. Our team was so excited to explore Pamir to find if there were any living suzani masters that we didn’t mind the 18 hours drive from Dushanbe [capital of Tajikistan] and the lie down through mountainous roads. Those hours seemed nothing to us as we were heading to Pamir, to the roof of the world.
“If the sun will appear we will start our journey”- said Jamal, our driver, originally himself from Pamir. “But if the weather will get cool and cloudy we should stay in Dushanbe”. The weather was very mild and warm that we didn’t pay attention what he told. How true those words would be…and journey started…
Passing the beautiful mountainous roads and watching magnificent mountains Jamal told: “High and majestic mountains know everything but silent”, and really it seemed mountains were watching us and invisibly showing us the way..
Suddenly in the midday the weather has changed to rainy and snowy, Jamal started get worried, and we didn’t know why. “ We should pass the river before it gets dark otherwise we have to spend the night in the car, yesterday another car was washed away, happily passengers survived”-nervously told Jamal.
March and April considered to be the dangerous months for travelling to Pamir as the ice start melting on mountains, which brings floods and waterfalls. Our car safely passed through 3 big waterfalls owing to our driver and reached Pamir late night. Thank Jamal, you are the best. Sleep well tomorrow we wake up early to speak to villagers to see if there are any masters. I make my prayer and now to sleep.
The inimitable Nigora
Click here to buy your own unique Tajik suzani. You get beauty, you give possibility, you craft a more connected world.
March 01, 2011
While more than 60% of the population lives below the poverty line, Tajikistan is still rich in culture. This post provides a glimpse of the country's traditions and demonstrates how some Tajiks are coming up with their own innovative ways to end poverty.
Smoke from shashlik (shish kabab) stands covers the main road in Khojand, Tajikistan.
Instead of staying in a chain hotel, we chose to support a local micro-enterprise. We were the first guests of a women who converted her apartment into a charming, entirely Tajik guest house. The room was on the second floor the third from the left. It was a cozy place with some crazy wallpaper!
Maxine in the kitchen of the guest house, entranced by that crazy wallpaper!
The apartment's mailbox.
And the stairwell.
This is how many Tajiks men pass their time, telling stories with an endless pot of tea.
Tajik bread not only tastes delicious, it is also a central part of Tajik tradition with its own set of rules. As a guest in a Tajik home you will likely be greeted with this bread. To receive it, first place your left hand on your heart and receive the bread with your right hand. When eating the bread, do not place it face down. And, if there is any left do not throw it out, most likely your host will give you the bread to take home or they will use it to feed their animals.
February 15, 2011
The women of Tajikistan are hardworking, strong and beautiful. They have survived Soviet rule, civil war and are now often the sole caretakers as their husands and sons try to earn a living in Russia. We came across many of these women on our journey, this post shows just a few of them. If you have further interest in this subject, The New York Times has a great post on the situation of Tajik women. You can get it here.
February 01, 2011
Locals and travelers have come together at the Panjshanbe Market since the days of the Silk Road. At that time, it was open only on Thursdays, which is how the market got its name --"panishanbe" is "Thursday" in Persian. Though the Silk Road is long gone, the market continues to thrive. The Bootstrap team had a few moments to catch the sites and personality of this cavernous place that is the true heart of Khujand. We present a few of the highlights.