Over mountains and windy plains to Maimana

The goal that I have set for ten years is called MAIMANA. However, getting to the capital of the northern province of Faryab means driving long kilometers on unpaved roads. Driving through an area that the locals consider unstable, explosive and very backward. We try to find out more information about the most problematic part of our journey, but in vain. None of the interviewed Afghans had traveled to Badghis province (in Persian it means Winds Catcher). So instead of the practical advice, we get second-hand stories about possible problems.

We stop asking and set off on a 430 km journey full of expectations. After a few kilometers from Herat, the country’s cultural mecca, we descend from asphalt to fine dust. The arid plain in front of us is dotted with bizarre structures all the way to the foot of the nearby mountains. The flimsy masonry with holes instead of windows and canvas instead of a roof resembles a cluster of tents. The settlement attracts us like a magnet, and as soon as we enter it, we are struck in the eyes by poverty in its rawest form. It is also a surprise that we are not greeted by a man in a turban, but by an elderly woman with distinctive jewelry. I notice the small symbols tattooed on the girls’ faces, colorful clothes and minimal shyness in front of the lens. All this is atypical for Muslim women. They even likes to show us rooms where a large family lives. Apart from the bare walls, a few mattresses and blankets, we find nothing in them.

After this experience, we are not surprised by the convoy of World Food Program (WFP) trucks with aid packages that we pass before long.

After less than an hour’s journey and a few meters of elevation gain, wonderful views will open up in front of us. The sharp edges of the Paropamisus mountain range modeled over the centuries, a rock formation reminiscent of a table mountain and a deep valley take our breath away with their magnificence. Have we found ourselves in the American Midwest?

Further along the dusty road between the bare hills, we pass the large black tents of the Kuchi nomads, for whom freedom and independence are above all else in the world.

At the Murghab River we greet nomadic boys watering a herd of camels.

In the distance, we observe the twenty-meter smoking chimneys of a brick factory set in a “moon” landscape. The journey is complex, but certainly not monotonous.

In the dark, after thirteen hours of difficult driving and several Taliban checks, we enter the city of Maimana. City that resonates so much with me from the very beginning. What will it be like? Finally, I can see for myself whether the local Turkmen and Uzbek women are among the most skilled weavers in the entire country, as they are rumored to be.

Early in the morning we visit a dye house that belongs to two local merchants and their families. I observe with interest the bubbling cauldron with the dye bath and the bundles of freshly dyed wool drying in the sun. This place is a male domain. Here, popular shading of colors (abrash) are accentuated by pulling bundles of wool with leather straps, and they like to combine natural dyes with fresh artificial ones. Only one man in the group is an expert who knows how to mix color ratios correctly.

The biggest surprise is yet to come. A narrow bumpy road leads us to a nearby village. Behind the massive old gate extends a completely different world! Women’s world where, except for those closest to them, men are denied entry. I am greeted by cooing women’s voices, running children and singing birds. I see large looms spread out everywhere on the ground as far as I can see. On them, in a fascinating interplay, three to five women sitting next to each other weave beautiful ornaments. This is where the kilims are made, which enchanted me during my first stay in Afghanistan. My dream is finally coming true!

After observing for a while, one of the women motions for me to try weaving. I can’t resist and take an iron comb to tap the loose fibers into the warp. I don’t dare to weave myself.

With many impressions that are difficult for me to describe, we say goodbye to them and set off to explore the bazaar of the city of Maimana. Melons of various shapes and tastes, fragrant spices, fresh vegetables, we devour new sensations with our eyes, and I am looking for one more texture in this variety – we discover the carpet market before long.

The stalls with tarpaulins and stacked piles of carpets resemble each other. There is a calm atmosphere, several men are eating on the stage in the middle. I am happy to discover old vintage pieces here.

It’s time to say goodbye to “my” city, buy more water supplies for the trip, refuel and head further east.

PS: Thanks to Jirka Weinzettl for the copyrighted photo and video documentation.