On each trip to Afghanistan, at every base, consulate or embassy we visited, Alex and I would meet with soldiers, diplomats and their staff to teach them about the host country’s rugs. We had a lot of fun doing this and I think we really helped the men and women we met feel more confident about the carpets they were seeing in the bazaars. Our names became somewhat known and the people we met passed our names around. Not that we were ‘rockstars’, but when we got to a new post, we could pack a room full of inquiring minds. After all, there’s not much, other than rugs, to bring home from Afghanistan that would remind your few good times ‘in country’.
I am home now, but about a month ago, I had a very pleasant experience advising a couple of US Marines who were stationed at Sangin, in the Helmand Province. That post is among the most ‘kinetic’ regions in all of Afghanistan. ‘Kinetic’, of course, means that that there is a high likelihood of Taliban attacks. After many months their unit was coming home and some the soldiers wanted to bring home a memento. In late March, I got an email and began the following conversation.
Hello Mr. Leahy, I got your name here at base.
I’m currently stationed in Afghanistan and would like to purchase a rug but I want to make sure I am not getting ripped off. I have I spent most my time in Sangin and they had absolutely no rugs there. I am now at the larger base waiting to go home and they sell carpets here. I have attached a few photos of the rug I am looking to purchase.
It is 4′ x 6′ and made of sheep’s wool. I have read info on wool and I am not sure if it is dead wool or not. If feels somewhat rough, but I have nothing to compare it to. I realize I am looking for free advice, but if you could help me out I would greatly appreciate it. I think it would be a great gift for my wife, who I haven’t seen in 7 months. I leave for the US tomorrow. They are asking $325 US dollars for it. Do you think it is a good deal? Thank you so much for your time!
Capt. Vail Raymer
Here was my reply:
Your wife will cherish this rug! And you will too…. It is a Turkmen rug from the Yomud tribe, likely made in Andkhoy, Faryab province. Nice rug, certainly not made from dead wool. It should be a little rough. Yomud rugs are usually made in reverse colors with red in the field and ivory or gold in the Gul designs, (those diamonds). So, this one is more rare. It would retail in a US shop for just about $1,000, so the price is fine. The lowest he would sell it for, if you negotiated with him, is $270, (his cost). But, since you are headed home tomorrow, I recommend that you pick it up for $325 and always remember that you left $55 of your money there in Afghanistan. Your own foreign aid program! As a fellow American, I am very proud of what you and the others have done there. All of us back here are proud. Let this rug be one good memory of your service. Travel safely and feel free to contact me when you get home if you want any other help. And, thank you for asking. You made my day, Rob Leahy
You just made my day! I was hoping it would be good news from you. I am amazed that you got all of that from just one picture! I guess in 46 years you learn a lot about rugs! A bunch of my Lt’s now want to buy rugs too. They would like to send you a few pictures to look at, but I don’t want to pass on your info and have you inundated with a barrage of emails about rugs. So, I will wait to see if it is okay with you before I forward your info. One of my Lt’s actually went to school at The Citadel right in your backyard. I myself have been to Charleston quite a few times and really enjoyed the history.
I’m really glad to hear it has such a high value, though I have no intentions of ever selling it. I hope to pass it on to my kids one day. I really appreciate your help with this!
By all means, give them my CI. I am happy to help. What are you guys doing up, it’s 2:15 in the morning, isn’t it?
We are currently back at Camp Leatherneck. We spent our deployment in Sangin training the Afghan police. The BBC did a documentary on my team. Here is the link. It’s about half an hour. Pretty insightful though. We maintain rather odd hours here. Can’t wait to get back onto California time.
I know of Camp Leatherneck. Wild times. I’ll look at that video. All my travels have been in the north and out to Herat. Far less ‘kinetic’, I think you say. There are almost no rugs woven by the Pashtun tribes. The ones you see there were all made up north.
Hope you get home soon,
Good morning Captain,
My wife and I watched the video just now. She was shaken. What a challenge you guys have there. I could see the look on your faces and the frustration you felt. Get home safely and thank you.
PS> Did you buy the rug?
Rob, The video is un-nerving. I think the worst part is the amount of taxpayer money we are dumping into the Afghan Police. We really liked a lot of them, but as a whole, the problem lies much higher in the system. They aren’t assigned based on merit so there really is no drive to work harder or stand out. Matter of fact, if you do stand out you are liable to tick off your boss because you are taking away attention from him. The higher ups actually got angry when we recognize a junior police officer instead of them. There was no pride in leadership, it is all very self-serving.
I did buy the carpet. Got it for $320. They told me it was from Herat, but they might just be making stuff up. They gave me a certificate that goes with it, but I assume it is about as worthless as the paper it is printed on. Is there a way to get these kinds of things certified? Again, I really appreciate all the help!
Glad you bought the rug. Herat is a big rug selling center, but the rugs are mostly brought in from the villages. Take care of yourself,
Thanks. I’m very excited to get the rug home. Thanks to your help I’m confident I made the right decision.
A second soldier, one of Captain Raymer’s Lieutenants, also contacted me:
Sir, I was referred to you by Vail Raymer. I have similar questions to his regarding information about a rug that I am looking at purchasing here in Afghanistan before our team ships back to the states in a couple of days. Any advice, information or help you can give me to aid my decision would be much appreciated.
Also, where are you located in Charleston? I currently live in CA but went to the Citadel so I hold that town near to my heart.
Lt. Bryan Crosson
Sorry was away from email. Must be around dawn there. Hope ya’ll are not still up? Yes, Charleston is a great town. I moved here in 1989 and never plan to leave. But, you will remember this…. It’s rained all day and the city was flooded. We live downtown. Uggh!
The rug photo you sent is looks like a Balouch rug. It is an adaptation of a Turkmen design, and probably made by Beluchis somewhere west of you and sold into Herat. It is not as fine an example as the one Capt. Raymer has his eye on. This looks also to be about a 4×6, so I’d say comparable price to his would be about $270-275. (That rug would carry a $600-$650 retail here). Whatever, if you like it and it is anywhere near the $275 price, buy it. It will be a lasting memento of your time there. Get out safely in the next few days and someday you will look back on it with a smile. A rug will help you remember the good people there. The ones who struggle to get by….
If you or others send more pix, you should always send me shots of the back, pretty close up so I can see the knots. Safe travel home and I hope you get back to a football game or a reunion; Charleston just keeps getting better!
Thanks for the speedy response. I definitely know how bad the flooding can get downtown. Downtown Charleston is great regardless. There’s always something to do. The restaurants are phenomenal as well.
I’ve attached pictures of another rug. It’s a little smaller (3’10’ x approx. 5′). I apologize the camera I have isn’t very high resolution.
I definitely think you’re right about having a memento of this place. Our team advised the Afghan police in Northern Helmand, so we worked directly with the Afghan government and many locals. I appreciate the advice. Next time I’m in Charleston I will definitely stop by your store and say hello.
Thanks again for your time,
This is a Kazak design. Most often woven by the Hazara; it is a standard commercial export quality. It is a replica of rugs made in northwest Iran and usually made with pretty good wool, (imported from Iraq!). The seller’s cost on this rug is about $210, your best price would be about $240. Nice rug, but the first photo you sent me is more indigenous to Afghanistan. I’d buy that one! Best wishes and please do call me when next you get to Charleston!
Captain Raymer and Lieutenant Crosson are both back in California now; happy to be home and enjoying their Afghan rugs. I have been in contact with them in preparation of this blog and invited them both to come back to Charleston. This whole experience, even including compiling these emails into a blog so that I could share it has been very pleasant for me. Rob
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