Tuesday, May 11, 2010

1 of 3

The next 3 posts will be rather heavy on the pictures, and light on the self-reflection. As our leave date gets closer I find I have less and less brain capacity to dedicate to writing words. Most of my brain seems to be occupied with planning our whirlwind visit (DC-NC-NY-IL-DC), making lists of things we need to buy for our second year (consumables, toiletries, and clothes), and daydreaming of yummy food that tastes like...well, food!

Our theme for this first post is: The Turquoise Mountain Foundation (TMF). (I can't let a post go by without a new acronym!)

A few weeks ago I had a meeting out at TMF's Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture. For those of you unfamiliar with this organization, TMF is a "non-profit, non-governmental organisation that was established in 2006 at the request of HRH The Prince of Wales and HE Hamid Karzai, The President of Afghanistan...Turquoise Mountain's aim is to revive Afghanistan's traditional crafts, and to regenerate Murad Khane, a historic area of Kabul's old city known for its rich cultural heritage." TMF also operates a school -- the Institute for Arts and Architecture -- where students learn traditional crafts and arts skills (jewelry & gemstones, woodwork, calligraphy & painting, and ceramics) from master teachers.

Cool fact: the chair of TMF is Rory Stewart, famed author of The Places in Between.

Full disclosure: TMF receives funding from USAID. Hence, why I was out at the Institute for a meeting.

Here are some of the sights from in and around the Institute.

A typical view from a drive around Kabul.

Another typical Kabul sight: an ad hoc bookstore.

The Institute is located in a restored 19th-century royal fort that in the 1920s was given as a bride price to the family of a wealthy merchant.

TMF rescued this beautiful doorway from the trash heap, and installed is a part of the restoration. The fort is filled with such rescued treasures.

The fort is quite beautiful. The gardens even more so. This is seriously the most greenery I've seen anywhere in Kabul.

This amazingly detailed painting is a work-in-progress from one of the Institute's students. I forget what the artist is demonstrating with her hands. She was so nice, answered all of our questions, spoke wonderful English, and was more than happy to take on commissioned work! Everything is done by hand, with the tiniest brushes and pens I've ever seen.

A display in the jewelry workshop. The pieces shown in the picture are nice, but not much different than what I find at the ISAF bazaar. But then the instructor showed us the "special" display case, with the most fantastic Afghan jewelry I've ever seen. I didn't snap of picture out of respect for the students' designs. But they were seriously amazing. There was a pin that we were all fighting over. Sadly the Institute doesn't sell the students' work. But one can commission a student to create a custom piece. I think I smell a birthday gift for a certain special someone....

The gemstone polishing workshop was very interesting. Here are some students polishing stones.....

....and here are some other students, also polishing stones. The students learn on both the modern and tradition polishing machines, ensuring that traditions are preserved while giving the students the skills they need to succeed in the modern industry.
We also visited the woodcarving shop, but my pictures didn't come out all that well.

In addition to operating the Institute, TMF is also restoring Murad Khane, a historic commercial and residential quarter in the heart of Kabul's old city, renowned for its rich cultural heritage of traditional Afghan architecture and crafts. Turquoise Mountain is working with Murad Khane residents to rebuild and conserve historic buildings, clear rubbish, and build schools and health clinics. Eventually the Institute will move to Murad Khane.

That's about it for the photo tour of my meeting at TMF. Next up: my visits to Jalalabad and Kandahar.

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