Good Reading : May 2008
MAY 2008 ı goodreading 17 behind the book inalterable convictions concerning the role and obligations of men and of women within a society. Arriving in Australia, it could almost be said that Najaf had more in common with the Indigenous people of the land than with those who had been raised in the dominant, white Anglo-American culture. But he also brought with him qualities that had very little to do with his Hazara cultural heritage, and as with anyone and everyone, individual wherewithal is more important and more interesting than any aggregation of cultural traits. *** Najaf ’s journey towards his vocation as a rugmaker commenced in the western reaches of the Hindu Kush where as a shepherd boy he tended the family flock all alone but for the company of a dog. In the evenings, the moon stood bigger than the sun above the stark peaks of the mountains. Najaf taught himself to locate the herbs and roots that protected his lightly-shod feet against frostbite in the icy winters, and how to preserve his daily meal of bread and honey from freezing by carrying it against his skin. He sang and daydreamed while there was light in the sky but when night came he trembled in terror, recalling stories told to him by his older brothers of wolves that flew through the air and tore the throat from any shepherd boy not sufficiently vigilant.These long days of herding sheep must have allowed Najaf a liberty of reflection greater than he’d appreciated, for when his family moved to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, he was left feeling unanchored, discontented. His older brother Gorg-Ali, who’d ruled the family after the death of Najaf ’s father, put the boy to work in a welding shop. Najaf loathed the work, but wasn’t free to protest. One day he met a boy who was apprenticed to a rugmaker.The boy offered to introduce Najaf to his master, and from the moment he gazed at the weavers sitting cross-legged at their looms in the rug factory, Najaf was hooked. He not only acquired the craft of weaving, but steeped himself in the history and traditions of rugmaking. Najaf had the good fortune to discover his passion for rugmaking before the ruinous civil wars of the 1980s and 1990s: wars that culminated in the triumph of the puritanical Taliban. Najaf ’s family took no part in the nationwide fighting; nevertheless, one of Najaf ’s brothers was killed by a sniper while tending the family’s bee hives; another brother was torn apart by a Mujahedin rocket.The same rocket attack left Najaf with a gaping wound in his left leg that took a year to heal. When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1998, young Hazara males such as Najaf were hunted like animals. The Hazara had made no secret of their detestation of the puritans. Najaf was captured and tortured by the Taliban, but met with astonishingly good fortune when a Taliban commander, moved by his pleas, et him go for the time being. A family conference was called, every cent that could be extracted from its hiding place was pooled with what could be borrowed. A total of $3,500 was raised, enough, just, to pay a people smuggler. And so Najaf put his foot to a road that would lead him after a hundred episodes of dread and depression, ucceeded by soaring hope, to the hell of a shop in Melbourne’s antique precinct.This was the shop n which little by little, he created a life out of the poetic sensibility and imaginative gifts he’d carried with him from Afghanistan.The walls of his shop are adorned with ome of the most gorgeous Afghan ribal rugs to be found anywhere n Australia.This is the shop that he proudly displayed to his wife and young daughter when he fetched hem to his new home from a camp in Pakistan. And this is the shop in which I sat sipping tea while a man I barely knew studied my face and asked himself whether I had it in my heart to tell his story. The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman is published by Insight Publications, rrp $24.95. The house in the village of Shar Shar Charkent where Najaf was born. Najaf Mazari’s house in Mazar-e-Sharif showing the window under which he was injured in the rocket attack. A poor quality road between Mazar-e-Sharif and Shar Shar. The tangi (Afghan for the archway) was man-made centuries ago .