My first trip to this extraordinary country in 2008 was a beginning of a troubled love story. I remember the first time I walked through the narrow alleys of the old market of Murad Khani making my way to the Turquoise Mountain school of arts. I was somewhat nervous of what people would think of me, a foreigner, a woman – would I be seen as part of the ‘occupiers’, some kind of enemy. I kept my covered head down and eyes lowered, and rushed past the heavily bearded and turbaned men seated at various stalls along the road.
The next day, I felt more confident and looked up and met the eyes of the men watching me pass, timidly I smiled. The faces opened in warm smiles and calls of Salam greetings. The next day the old man selling cups of tea seated on the ground put the teapot on his head and made a comical face to make me laugh, children ran out and putting their arms around me for a photograph, anonymous women floating by in blue burkas stopped to be in the picture.
Since then every trip has continued to teach me so much. Even on trips when the tension and levels of fear are palpable, when attacks have raged in different parts of the city and I felt fear, I also felt gratitude to be there.
There is so much beauty, even in a war ravaged place. I find inspiration in the soothing shades of blues of the tile work of the old mosques, the mogul style public gardens providing leafy tree shade in the hot summers, and a place to gather sitting in circles in the grass to talk. I enjoyed picnics under mulberry trees outside the city, visiting the potters of Istilif, the serene elegance of the school made of earth architecture and hand carved scented wood.
Afghanistan is a culture of proper conversationalists, of people who enjoy communicating in open, proper heart felt conversations. The exchanging of ideas, of concepts, of impressions of the world far away and what that world thinks of them. I have fond memories of sharing meals, large steaming plates of rice and herbs and dried fruit and tearing warm bread and eating together seated on the floor on woven carpets. I ache to go back.
Afghanistan has not only suffered decades of war, poverty but now covid19 has taken hold. We have joined with the workshop in Kabul in raising funds to buy food for the poorest most vulnerable families. Also I am thinking of those hurt in this week’s inhuman attack on a maternity ward in Kabul.
But I am also thinking of Afghanistan’s remarkable resilience, and the strength and humanity of its people and the bravery of the girls and women who often risk so much in order to be heard and seen.
Born as a refugee into the poor conditions of a Peshwari camp, Saeeda became seriously ill during the first few weeks of her life. Struck down with cerebral meningitis, she was unable to walk and lost her hearing. Fortunately, over the years she regained mobility, but sadly her hearing never returned.
She spent most of her childhood sat at home drawing as she watched all of her siblings go to school. After the fall of the Taliban, her family decided to return to Afghanistan. It was here that her brother suggested she should study a craft, and she became a student at the Turquoise Mountain Institute.
She has since worked with us to create a number of beautiful pieces, the most spectacular featuring in an exhibition in the Smithsonian in Washington. She is now collaborating with other female jewellers and starting her own business.