A good culturtwining book: A Carpet Ride to Khiva

Recently, a friend pointed me in the direction of a book about carpet-making in Uzbekistan. Since I’m proud of my hardwood floors, and since the few rugs that I have scattered around are hand-me-downs with their Ikea labels still intact, an entire book about the process of setting up a workshop to make carpets did not at first glance sound like my thing.

But, it was categorised under travel writing, and written from the perspective of a British person (British perhaps being a label to be held loosely, since he tells us he was born in Turkey and raised in Lebanon) who had moved to Uzbekistan, and not with any plans to make carpets. So the CulturTwiner in me decided to check it out.

Within a page or two, I was hooked. Right on the first page, the author reveals that he had no idea what he was getting into when he went to Uzbekistan… except that he was forewarned that he had no idea what he was getting into, and that he knew he’d be living in a remote location with questionable credentials as far as weather and food were concerned, and that he was aware that he would have to learn a new language and culture.

This sounded like a good adventure, and as the book unfolded, the adventure was good indeed.

I’m not a book reviewer (although I’ve gained an immense appreciation for anyone willing to review my book!), but A Carpet Ride to Khiva, by Christopher Aslan Alexander, was a brilliant enjoyable read… and it was all about CulturTwining. It’s a celebration of learning a new culture, language, way of life… and loving [almost] every minute of it. This is what he says about what he learned in Khiva:

“Khiva would leave a huge imprint on my life: toughening me up, humbling me with regular examples of sacrificial hospitality and kindness, broadening me with new friendships and very different perspectives on life.”

I think those words capture the heart of what it means to jump into the world of people who are different from us with a spirit of curiosity and excitement. It’s not always easy, but we learn so much. As I read the book, especially the early chapters which give an account of the author’s adjustment to life in his new home, I found myself emotionally reliving my own adventures in new places: the relentless emotional highs and lows, the challenges of dealing with bureaucracy, a fervent desire to finally settle down at least temporarily into some semblance of a home, the near nausea at being shouted at yet-again in terribly accented English by shopkeepers in touristy areas, shock when one is the recipient of such hospitality and generosity that it’s hard to believe it doesn’t come with a catch, the fascination with a million new things to see and explore, the gradual process of making friends and one day realising that friends have been made, developing creative strategies for staying warm in winter and cool in summer because not every country in the world has rigorous indoor climate control, and the thrill at those moments when one is actually recognised by others and considered a member of the community. The book is full of anecdotes that capture these and other emotions. So, yes, I thought it was a good read, and worth mentioning here on CulturTwined.

As far as the carpets go, well, the story of how he and his colleagues set up the workshop is pretty fascinating, too. And since I read the book I’m feeling a bit of an urge to trade in the dingy old rug that I inherited from the previous owner of my flat, and replace it with something that has even a fraction of the intricate beauty and TLC of the carpets described in the book!

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