Anna Badkhen has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. Badkhen, a former war correspondent, developed a fondness for the region. She has written numerous books about her experiences there. She wrote “Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories, ” “Waiting for the Taliban: a Journey Through Northern Afghanistan” and “Afghanistan by Donkey: A Year in a War Zone.”
As one might surmise, Badkhen immersed herself and got into some extraordinary situations. In her latest book, “The World Is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village” she invites us to a remote village that is so isolated it doesn’t appear on any maps.
This was the village of Oqa in northern Afghanistan. Badken begins her story by describing a journey she took with a man named Amanullah, a donkey and her translator. She recounts that at 4 in the morning they were walking along, just the four of them. They hiked eighteen miles to a market town to buy carpet yarn for Amanullah’s wife, Thawra.
Thawra would spend the next seven months weaving her carpet. Badkhen describes how “day after day, she would knot course weft threads over warps of thin, undyed wool, weaving the most beautiful carpet I have ever seen.”
“The World Is a Carpet” tracks the creation of this magnificent carpet as Thawra and some of her neighbors made “two hundred and forty symmetrical knots per square inch. Three hundred seventy-two thousand knots per square meter. One million one hundred and sixteen thousand knots in all.”
The carpets that Thawra and other Turkoman women in this region weave are ultimately sold for thousands of dollars overseas. If Thawra and Amanullah are fortunate they might be able to sell her carpet to a local buyer for two or three hundred dollars. They must try to live on this money until the following year when she will finish making her next carpet.
Badkhen witnesses the lives of the residents who live in the forty huts that form the village of Oqa. There are two wells in the village. The water in both wells is unsanitary. There’s never enough food to eat.
But these generous people shared what little they had with the author.
There was one bed in the entire village. The owner would haul it outside and let his neighbors sit on it.
Some of the other women were making carpets, too. Some of the men collected wild thistle plants from the desert. They carried the thistle plants to neighboring villages. This plant was used as kindling for fires. They gathered it up so they could trade it for food.
The author observed life in the village over time as gradually, knot by tiny knot, Thawra completed her carpet. Reading “The World Is a Carpet”
will give readers a better understanding of this mysterious land and the courageous and determined people who live there. Her writing is gorgeous. She enhances her text with her drawings of village life. This story is a lovely treasure unearthed from beneath those shifting desert sands.
This week’s book
“The World Is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village” by Anna Badkhen (Riverhead, 271 pages, $26.95)