Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Family That Rides Together...

The Answers:
A love seat and cushions
A lawn mower
3 women
3 women, 3 young boys and a baby
A goat
A man holding an automobile windshield
9 brass milk jugs
A man holding 46 boxes of shoes
A mother, baby and a standing floor fan
A 3-drawer filing cabinet
3 adult men
A large roll of carpet

And the Question:

Who/what (besides the driver) did I see on a small motorcycle this past week on the ride to and from work?

Motorcycles are pretty much the major mode of transportation here in Lahore.  They monopolize the roads and when you’re stopped at stop lights, they wiggle their way to the front and line up like cattle.  Any room left between you and the car in front of you will be filled with motorcycles by the time the light turns green.  The traffic lights only work 12 hours out of every 24, every other hour, due to load shedding (shutting off power to the city) so intersections are always every man for himself.

Often, you will see the rider of the motorcycle with his helmet on his gas tank. There's a helmet law here so they carry it just in case they're stopped and then they put it on.  Never do you see any of the other riders wearing one. 

All the women ride ‘side saddle’ and often have a child in their arms and one of more squeezed in between them and the driver.  Young children will ride on the gas tank and I’ve even seen foot rests welded to the frame for the kids to rest their feet on.  The most kids riding on the gas tank I’ve seen on one bike was 4, with the youngest in front, next youngest behind him and so on.  It reminded me of the kids from the movie The Sound of Music.

When you can’t afford a car, you use whatever means you have to get from point A to point B.  And you transport whatever you have, whether it’s kids or animals or windshields on that bike.  You would think that if you had to use a motorcycle to get around with a family in tow, you wouldn’t have any more children than you could fit on that bike.  So far, the most kids on a bike with Mom and driver that I’ve seen is 5.  That’s 7 on a small motorcycle.   I've seen pictures of more than that!

Not bad, just driver, mom and baby. The kids learn from an early age how to ride on a bike.

Carpet delivery man

These large jugs are used to transport milk. Note the one by the front wheel. 4 were on each side with one behind the driver.

Mom, Dad and 3 kids.

These young men were passing a cigarette back and forth...2 on the bike on the left, 3 guys on the bike on the right.

The back bike had 2 kids riding on the tank and a case behind the driver.

Mom, Dad and 4 kids...see the baby?  And a large bag.

Bag hanging below the driver holding the fan in front of the baby being held by Mom.

The monsoon season began a couple of weeks ago.  We were on our way to see the carpet company and it started pouring.  We came up to an overpass and I had to laugh that 2 of the 3 lanes had turned into a parking lot.  Oh...driving in Pakistan is an adventure!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hand Knotted Carpets 101

I’m now on my 3rd and final tour with the Foreign Service, serving in Lahore, Pakistan. Oh, how I wish it were not my final tour but mandatory retirement will shove me out the door June 30, 2014. 

While serving in Muscat, Oman, I fell in love with the hand knotted wool and silk carpets that were available.  I am the proud owner of 15 gorgeous carpets, some wool on wool, some silk on silk.  And if you have never had the pleasure of walking on a silk carpet, you’re missing out on a real treat.  These carpets are really works of art and beautiful on the floor or hanging on the wall.  I jokingly said I needed to enroll in the 12 Step Program for carpet purchasing!  Well, I’m  once again back where carpets are produced and recently I had an experience (and temptation) I won’t soon forget.
Several of us from the Consulate took a trip to the Lahore Carpet Manufacturing Co. ( here in Lahore, Pakistan.  This was my Disneyland moment in Pakistan!  I learned so much about how the carpets are produced and brought to market.  I now understand why these things of beauty cost so much.  I’ve always believed that each one was an investment and now that I’ve seen just what goes into the making of a hand knotted carpet I understand why they cost what they do.   This is just one more reason why I am grateful to have served in this region with the opportunity to buy and learn about this wonderful art form.  Leading the tour of this 150,000 square foot facility with over 400 employees were the 3 partners of the company. Their father established the company in 1949 and they are carrying on the tradition he began over 60 years ago.  This is an art that goes back to the 5th century BC.  I was amazed at the entire process, from the way the colors are established to just how many times each carpet is inspected before it is ready to hand over to its new owner.  We were told that the U.S. is their biggest customer, with approximately 60% of their business going to Americans.  Believe me when I tell you that designers are beating down their door for these carpets, another reason that these carpets are an investment!  Turkey is another good customer, so if you’ve served in Istanbul and bought a carpet there, it could actually be from Pakistan.  China, who used to enjoy the majority of the market in hand woven carpets, is now one of their customers, due to the economy.  Below is my photo trip through the Lahore Carpet Manufacturing Co.  Enjoy!

Initial designs are hand drawn on graph paper and filled in with color.   The designs then go to the people who write the ‘code’ or special language called Talim, which is what tells the weaver which colors to use on each line.  The design originals are archived and copies are sent to the weavers.  I was surprised to learn that weavers are located all over Pakistan and Afghanistan.  None of the weaving is done on site and we were assured that no child labor was used in the making of these carpets…and no child was seen on our tour.  I asked about the workday hours and was told that the work schedule is 8 hours a day, strictly enforced.  

Once the design is complete (the picture  below is a part of the completed design on the graph paper), the yarn is dyed.  Color schemes are driven by styles and trends…they already have the colors that are scheduled to be in style for 2013-14.  This information is vital in order to get the wool and have it dyed and meet the carpet demand 1-2 years in advance. Their wool comes from all over…Australia, Afghanistan and New Zealand to name a few.  Some sheep are sheared once a year, yielding a longer strand, others twice a year with shorter strands. This all comes into play in carpet manufacturing. 
Depending on the complexity of the design, size of the carpet and the number of knots per square inch (the most important detail), it could take 2 years for one weaver to make a carpet. Sometimes 2-3 people will work on the same carpet at the same time, reducing the time to completion.  Once complete, it is sent back to Lahore and their process of finishing it and readying it for sale begins.
The carpets are received and inspected.  They are then cleaned, and I mean scrubbed!  They are then laid outside in the large courtyard on clean river rocks to dry, or in some cases, hung out to dry! Carpets are hung wherever there is room to hang them!  The weather is watched and if the forecast is for rain, the carpets are brought inside. 
Once they are dry, the process of getting them ready for sale begins. They are inspected over and over, at every step in the process. This results in finding small errors in the pattern which are corrected by a team. The rugs are stretched to make sure they are exactly straight and true to measurements.  Rows are checked to make sure they line up the way they are supposed to.  After each process they are once again cleaned.  I learned that lots of water will NOT hurt your carpet!  The backs of the carpets are hit with fire to seal the knots and keep them from coming loose.

When the carpets are received from the weavers, they are not trimmed to the short length you're used to seeing; they're really shaggy.  So, off to the room where the shaving takes place!  There are different lengths to a pile and these men have instructions on just how short to shave each carpet.  They have electric ‘razors’ with rotating blades. I didn’t see any guides on them so I assume they just know low, medium or high. After the shaving, the carpets go in a tumbler that removes any excess wool that was shaved off, even though there is a vacuum that sucks up most of the shaved wool. By the way, the many bags of shaved wool are donated to a group who use it for stuffing for cushions and other puffy things.  Nothing is wasted in this process!

Then it’s off to the binding area, where the men stitch around the edge, just inside the fringe, making sure the rug is securely stitched so that nothing unravels.  Once that’s done, it goes to another section for further inspection, stretching, corrections and even re-dying.  Yes, due to demands, more bright colors are being requested by the younger generation of carpet lovers.  Colors like purple, pink and teal!  So, once a rug is completed in the colors of the Talim, the carpet is re-colored by hand.  Yes, the browns, beiges, blacks or reds are transformed to pink, purple, orange or fuscia, depending on the order.  All of us just shook our heads but if the demand is there, you have to supply.  They even have carpets that are a patchwork.  They cut up completed carpets and then stitch them back together to form one patchwork carpet and then (ugh) they are “over colored” to a palette of all blues or purples or reds.  None of us liked this process, but again…supply and demand. 
Once the carpet has been through this long process, it finally makes it to the showroom floor. The showroom is actually like a large warehouse where stacks and stacks of carpets wait to be sold, shipped or repaired.  They are organized by style, size, technique and price.  And those over colored ones?  Those have a place in the back corner! You can see some in the picture below...not my favorites.

This is when we had the opportunity to shop…at wholesale prices!  I found one I liked and it has been delivered to me and has a home under my dining table.  Before it was delivered, it went through one final inspection to insure it was perfect.  One more carpet to add to my collection!  That's it below!
My new carpet!
This tour gave me an increased respect for this art.  In Oman, I was told that the youth in the Kashmir region, where most of the carpets came from, are not interested in learning this skill from their elders.  We can thank the computer age for this reluctance to carry on tradition.  I fear that one day, all carpets will be made by machine and we will have lost yet another art done by hand to machines.  Machine made carpets are beautiful, but just not the same as hand made.  How can you tell if a carpet is made by hand or by machine?  I’ve been told to take a close look at the fringe.  A hand made carpet will have fringe that is an extension of the weave of the carpet, as the fringe runs all the way through the carpet to the opposite end. A machine made carpet will have fringe that is sewn on and you should be able to see this.
The picture here shows how the design charts are bundled and saved. I asked if they had a good sprinkler system in case of fire.  He told me they were in the process of scanning all designs in the computers so they will never lose them. 

All dyes are natural.  These are some examples of the colors used. Brown is never always the same old brown...the varying shades of colors is endless. 

I’m being realistic when I say I am not done buying carpets. I have about 22 months left to serve here in Pakistan and I know there will be more trips to this carpet company. And when I return, I hope to pick up more details that I missed this trip, as well as another carpet or two. 

I love my life.