The American Museum of Natural History currently has an exhibit about the Silk Road, an impressive review of land links from China to Europe that began sometime in the second century BC to around 1500 when boats took over as trade conduits. My daughter loved the camels and the live silkworms, I marveled at the rich history of the many peoples and cultures along the route. I am reading Freya Stark’s beautiful reflections on her travels in Arabia and what once was has captured my imagination.
Afghanistan for example was part of a southern Silk Road route that snaked to India. On the map, cities like Herat, Kabul and Bamyan, the last which we today associate with the terrible Taliban destruction of the giant Buddhas. Chaos and mayhem are probably the only visuals we get from Afghanistan today. But once upon a time, as my daughter would say, Alexander the Great walked these lands, Indian ivories and Chinese lacquers were collected, and rug-making transcended centuries.
Connie Duckworth who is our second featured writer in Speakers’ Corner recognized the skill and entrepreneurship shown by Afghan women in creating beautiful hand-made rugs and started Arzu, an organization which provides a marketplace for the rugs made by Afghan women and in turn invests in their education and well-being. It is a unique endeavor, and Connie has built it step by step by relying on contacts and associates and their donation of skills and expertise. I profiled Connie several years ago, and have reconnected to see the organization become an even bigger success. It also shows a different side of Afghanistan – one where the traditions and heritage of the past are very much alive and celebrated, and one where women have a chance at empowerment.
Six years ago, I met two striking and strong-willed women from Afghanistan when I was taking an International Reporting class at NYU. They had tremendous pride and hope in their country, and wherever they are today, I know they are trying bring Afghanistan back to its prosperous Silk Road past.