I read Christopher Aslan Alexander’s book about his work for an NGO in the city of Khiva, Uzbekistan. Khiva is one of the UNESCO World Heritage-protected cities of the Silk Road. It is the city farthest from Tashkent and it has the largest ancient part of the city (Ichan Kala) that is preserved. I have not been there yet and reading Chris’s account, wants me to see the place. Khiva reached its zenith in the 1600s under the descendants of Ghengis Khan. It was a huge slave market where Persians and Russians were bought and sold. Slave labor built the great walled city.
Chris came and spoke at our school a couple of times and he is a nice guy and a great storyteller. He gave a really good workshop to our Diploma Programme students about what makes a good story. It is nice to have a personal connection to an author. I hope he comes back because now that I read his book, I want to know more from him.
He worked for Operation Mercy, a service organization affiliated with the UN. He developed a carpet factory in a disused madrassa and the book tells the story of the trials and successes in establishing a profitable business. Chris researched ancient texts and paintings to bring back designs of the carpets depicted hundreds of years ago to life. He describes the entire process of how silkworms are raised to collecting plants and powders to make his all natural dyes.
My favorite part of the book was his descriptions of the people he got to know in Khiva. I always wonder while I drive by or visit towns and smaller cities in Uzbekistan about their lives. He gives lots of details of what their lives are like. I forget that poverty really narrows people’s lives and the simple challenge of survival is first and foremost occupation of many of the poor in Uzbekistan. It inspired me to help others more and I will try to support more our service projects that aid the local community. It also gave me an understanding of life under the former president, Islam Karimov.