Just a few hours drive outside of Kabul lies Istalif, a four hundred years old village. It is famed for its turquoise ceramics, made using a natural potash glaze known as ishkar. The village seemed very calm and people were extremely friendly, happy to give us directions to the ceramics market. As expected, on a Wednesday afternoon the market seemed empty except a few kids instructed to keep the shops for their elders. The market did seem to have seen far better days. Just a few years ago, the market streets would have been crowded when expats would visit Afghanistan. However, the market shops saw some traffic and were content to sell their ceramic wares in this way. In 1999, Istalif was razed to the ground by the Taliban. Many of Istalif’s pottery workshops were destroyed, and along with them the knowledge of the ishkar glaze that made Istalifi pottery so distinctive.
Recently, the tradition of ceramics has been revived with help from international institutions such as the Turquoise Mountain as well as other individuals who purchased them carried them to other parts of the world. Also, to get these and other Afghan merchants global exposure, some programs made it possible for the ceramics to make it to global stages. For instance, these Istalifi ceramics can be found in the Birmingham Museum in England or the Smithsonian gallery in Washington, DC. After going through a few shops; we found Abdul Manan, who was welcoming both to us and the proposition Aseel offered him. Over tea, he described how making these ceramics has been a family tradition, also describing how he makes the turquoise ceramics. After our discussion, he gave our team a tour of his factory, consisting of a small workshop, storage area, and kiln room.
We also went for a walk in the neighborhood and played with the kids briefly. As we continued the process of on-boarding Abdul Manan, his brother and business partner Abdul Matin, we were struck by the juxtaposition of his dedication for work and the beauty of his craftsmanship compared to his lack of income and the lack of strong economic infrastructure in his home village.
As our partner, Aseel is committed to helping Feroz Bukhdi sell his products to a wider audience and help him and his village recover more fully. Since then, we have been working with Feroz Bukhdi to get the beautiful ceramics they produce and get them ready to be part of Aseel as the first few partners that we will launch with.