As for the girl, she becomes a part of a new household in which she will never cease working, weaving, and having children. Sometimes her husband takes a second wife, perhaps a third, and even a fourth, which makes the work a littler easier for each.
But for all, the life is the same. Smiles are small, laughter rare, yet the magic fingers of these women of queenly bearing produce true works of art, the glorious Turkoman carpets price. On the great looms unfold silent gardens of deepest red, through which flow brooks alternately bathed in light and shadow—scenes of paradise as described in the Koran.
The weavers work with every ounce of their energy, burying their joys and sorrows alike in their carpets, forgetting even the baby in its hammock hung above the loom. Sometimes, as I watch them wield the great scissors with which they even the strands of wool, I sense a symbolism: They cut themselves off from the world; they accept their lot with calmness and serenity.
In their finished work as well there is symbolism. The rhythm of the patterns, differing from tribe to tribe, is that of the changing seasons, perhaps also that of the footfalls of marching camels—the rhythms that are so basic in nomadic life.
Seeking better understanding of the weaving women, I crouch often beside their looms and with my clumsy fingers try to tie some of the thousands of tiny knots that go into every carpet. The women smile and patiently guide my hands. They answer all my questions, even asking their mothers or an old neighbor the names of ancient patterns in which I express an interest.
I can give so little in return! I hand out a few aspirin tablets and doctor small cuts or sore eyes. But Romain’s presence proves to be my best gift to them. At his slightest display of strange foreign ways they chuckle gleefully. His spontaneous friendship delights them, and when he joins naturally in the games of their own children, he wins their hearts completely.
Unhappily, some of the women are abandoning the traditional carpet designs in favor of those of foreign lands. This is to satisfy the demands of the international market, which are so great that workshops have recently been opened for men, whereas only women wove rugs before—and they weave only at home.
Chemical dyes are replacing the old vegetable colors. However, I have seen women using madder, Rubia tinctorum, an herb that produces extraordinary reds. But to dye the wool for even a small carpet, a good deal of madder root is required, and this costs twice as much as chemical dye.
Birthday Cake Perplexes Hosts
Today is Romain’s birthday. We are dinner guests of the governor at Kaldar, a big Turkoman village on the bank of the Amu Darya. A bukhari, a primitive wood stove, heats the room. For light there is a kerosene lamp, and for comfort, rugs spread on the floor.
A number of village personalities, all of them men, are with us. Wrapped in silks as beautiful as the robes of kings, heads swathed in turbans as majestic as crowns, they might have stepped out of centuries-old Oriental paintings. Some have handsome ivory countenances, some are old and wrinkled, others display the waxy faces of opium smokers. One puts us in mind of a wicked sultan.
We have a small cake and on it put four candles we have brought from France. We sing “Happy Birthday to You.” Making a great effort, Romain blows out all the candles. Our Turkoman friends are mystified by all this. Yet everyone smiles and applauds and gracefully accepts a slice of cake proffered by Romain. The winter wind howls outside, but we are warm and among friends.