When freelance journalist Anna Badkhen returned to Afghanistan in 2011, she set her eyes on a region so remote it doesn’t exist on Google Maps.
In her new book, The World Is A Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village, Badkhen chronicles her time in Oqa - a rural, rainless village of 240 people and “40 doorless huts.”
For many of its residents, survival hinges on the fingers of women and children. They engage in the local tradition of carpet weaving, earning about 40 cents a day for carpets that eventually sell for $5,000 to $20,000 abroad.
“It took a village to weave a carpet,” writes Badkhen, explaining that each carpet served as a personal diary, “with its sorrowful zigzags, daydreamy curlicues, loops of melancholy, knots of joy.”
In what reads like poetry, Badkhen’s book conveys the age-old tradition against a backdrop of deprivation and violence — it’s “the friction between extreme poverty and unspeakable beauty,” she tells Wayne Goodwyn, host of weekends on All Things Considered.
On the village and how she arrived there
“A friend introduced me — he worked with me as a driver in 2010, and we came by car to this village of this humped desert in northern Afghanistan where nothing grows. The only water source in the village is two diseased wells. People live extremely poor — one of the poorest villages I visited in Afghanistan.”
On the significance of carpet weaving
“I want people who happen to own an Afghan carpet or who go in a dealership in New York, or Philadelphia, or San Francisco and examine and admire an Afghan carpet, I want them to remember that these were woven by hand in a village, that the entire village participated. That this one carpet helps sustain the livelihoods of a lot of families, starting with the very poor weaver in Oqa to the slew of middlemen and traders who sell it each time at a markup larger than the previous markup.”
On village reaction to the U.S. war in Afghanistan
“It’s fair to say that most Afghans are extremely disillusioned in this war that was fought, and is being fought, very largely in their name. To them, this is just the latest iteration of war that has been battering their land since the beginning of recorded history. People in Oqa had never even heard of Osama bin Laden, which I found out after bin Laden was killed. I said, ‘Have you heard?!’ And they said, ‘Who’s that?’”