colors and cultures

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In January, I was lucky enough to get to visit the annual Domotex floor covering trade fair in Hannover, Germany. Taking a break from Istanbul for a few days did me a world of good, having the opportunity to lose myself in the hustle and bustle of the carpet world was a real treat, and getting a real glimpse into the business world of my father and sister was hugely educational and inspiring.

Although the merchants and customers came from all over the world, the majority of the merchants we visited were from Iran. Turkish rugs are, clearly, easier for us to access here in Turkey, so my father focused mainly on purchasing the Iranian carpets, Gabbehs, Sultanabads, Herizes, and Samarkands; he felt would be popular among customers in the United States. As one might expect, a significant amount of posturing, negotiating, and bargaining was par for the course over the three days we were there!

Despite the cacophany of voices and the constant movement of fair, the time we spent looking at each carpet provided me a moment of quiet that was almost meditative.  As the colors and patterns moved before my eyes, I began to think a great deal about the cultures from which these beautiful pieces of art have emerged. In particular, the way in which a traditional art form, with a very functional purpose, has managed to form cultural connections between the cultures and nations producing the carpets, such as Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and of course, Turkey, and those who have traditionally appreciated the beauty and workmanship these carepts represent, such as the U.S., Great Britian, Germany, and France (among many others).

The personal connections that I was able to make with the rug merchants we visited varied. Some were Iranians who had travelled to Germany only for the fair. Their family connections in Iran, and their ethnic backgrounds meant that while they spoke little English, they did, in fact, speak Turkish! Although at times I had trouble understanding some of the older Turkish words that have been lost from our daily vocabulary, my father was able to complete his negotiations and purchases without any trouble.  Other Iranian families had been living in Germany for years and spoke German and English fluently. One family in particular reminded us so much of our own family that I felt as though I had known them for years! Like us they had all spent their lives going back and forth between two countries and two cultures, in their case Germany and Iran, as their parents built their now booming carpet business. With them I was able to bond not just over the beauty of the carpets, but also over stories about our children, spouses, and struggles and success balancing our two cultures.

Balancing these two cultures has, for me, at times been a real challenge.  There are parts of each that I would never want to live without, and parts of each that I would be very happy to get rid of entirely. In addition, having lived a somewhat itinerant life as a child, it is certain that the current stability and routine of my life is something I sought out, however also something that often frustrates me. On the whole, as I was reminded in Germany, the vibrancy of this cultural combination, mirrored in the vibrant colors of the carpets that have always been such an integral part of my life, is something that has enriched my world and something that I would never want to lose.

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