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Faheema's Story, Part I

By the age of seven, I was weaving carpets 16 hours a day and had become the principal source of income for my family. My father, who had been a general under a previous government, was a marked man. Our family was repeatedly forced to flee, first to Iran and later to Pakistan, back and forth several times.

Despite the chaos around me, I started a night school in Pakistan, which was set up by a visionary educator for Hazara refugees like myself. When the school relocated to post-Taliban Kabul, I went with it. This is where I learned English, which enabled me to continue my education and get a university degree in the United States.

After five years in America, I returned to Afghanistan and was forced to confront many uncomfortable truths about my country, my family, and myself. I poured my pain into a series of carpets I designed and wove. They drew on the richness of the Persian poetry that had been my solace during the troubling times throughout my life. The result is this collection of carpets I titled Verses.

My designs are based principally on the poetry of Mawlana Jalal ud-Din Mohammad Balki, the Afghan-born mystic, known to the world as Rumi.

While creating these carpets, I had to work through questions that had hung heavy over my young life and had no easy answers. As my looms filled with these calligraphic patterns, I wrote at length in diaries about the feelings that were being unleashed as I wove. Often angry, sometimes overwhelmed, and frequently numb, I painstakingly tied one knot at a time, believing–without being sure–that they would eventually help me find release.

After three years in the making, Verses eventually brought me to a place where I am at peace with myself. Now, I am ready to share my introspections, discoveries, and the revealed serenity they have engendered.

I hung my carpets on the walls where I weave with other girls, intending to have a mini exhibition to showcase our work. I was the only visitor. It was like I was the only one who would listen to my story. So, I have been telling the story to myself.

From the first time I thought of weaving, I wanted to write about the process and what thoughts and feelings I encounter as I create.

It has truly been a difficult, bumpy road. Since I started weaving and working through my past, many things have happened that have affected the designs I am creating. The young girl I remember myself as, and the world around me during that time, are depicted in minimalist designs that are much different than what I make now. 

This has been the scene in my home for the past several years. I always have a graph, threads, and a carpet loom available, whether I have worked on it or not. I also keep a computer, a notebook, a pen, and many books close by my side. There have been days that I have slept in front of the loom, not thinking about anything; just sleeping. There have been days that I have sat in front of the loom and stared into space; not doing anything at all. There have been days where I have cried my eyes and heart out. But, above all, there have been countless days I have written and thought. Days that I have used well to get well.

This is the only photo of me weaving from my childhood. I was seven years old and had just come to Kabul from Bamyan. I wasn’t aware of what was going on and why I had to do what I was doing. Most days, I was woken up at 4 or 5 in the morning to start weaving while others slept, including my father and younger brothers. I still remember that sleep was the sweetest thing in my life back then. Oh, and the time I heard other kids playing and yelling joyously while I was sitting alone, facing a wall, weaving, imagining freedom to be as sweet as early morning sleep.  

This is the girl I returned to when I came back from the United States. I didn’t return to my parents, to my home, to my husband, to my country. I returned to my childhood. I sat and revisited this girl. The smile she wore, the pain in her heart that only I know, and the blisters she carried with her throughout her childhood and adolescent years into adulthood. I have often asked myself how she could smile at the camera back then. I haven’t been able to overcome that smile and that look, with all the carpets that I make and with all the stories that I tell, of the time, and of her. I remember her. I’m the only one that remembers her. I remember her strength, her aspirations, her thoughts, her feelings, and her eyes that always, ALWAYS lacked sleep. I remember how skinny and weak she was that while pushing the overhead stick up while going from one row of knots to the next, she would feel a sharp pain in her stomach, and would have to rub oil around her belly button.

I remember the exact time this photo was taken. The day, the hour, the minute. Afghanistan had fallen under the Taliban. It was winter, and it was Ramadan, so I fasted, as I was told to do. Fasting could save two meals during the day, and if I skipped a meal, I could work which meant extra gain. Of course, God wanted me to fast because it was good for all, and for the God who didn’t know how to feel all these hungry people, He had created. It was almost time for Iftar, and I was starving, but first, I had to finish my work. Looking at this photo, I can still feel the hunger and helplessness I felt back then.

Dad came into the room with a camera I didn’t know he had. He just took this one photo and some photos of the boys playing around. He asked me to look into the camera and smile, and I did. Just like I did when he asked me to work 16 hours a day. It was never explained to me why I had to work. That alone was one of the reasons I had been so bitter for so long. But after working through this project, I have finally come to terms with it. I now understand why I had to work. And above all, why I did.

At the time of the war, my parents had nothing to hang onto. I was their only asset and helper. Looking back, I am glad I worked then, because the confidence I have in myself now, the love I have for life, and the appreciation I have for everyone, all come from the difficulty of my childhood.

I have now forgiven my parents who were not able to provide for their family, so I had to. I have forgiven them for my lost childhood. For the blisters on my hands, my fingers, my heart, and the memory of my younger years. I have forgiven the times, and I have forgiven the war. It has taken everything from me, even now; but I have come to understand that I will do what is in my power and not fret over doing and taking care of everything. Now my power, love, and focus lies in studying so I can do my part. And that is what I do, and what I want to do. 

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Rustigian Rugs
One Governor Street, Providence, RI 02906

(Off-street parking in the rear of the building).
Call: 401-751-5100.

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