Afghan yearns for prosperity in his homelandSeeing old friends and relatives in his hometown of Kandahar, Afghanistan, for the first time in years was an exciting experience for Alex Yousofi.
But the turmoil that still racks his homeland has him thinking he'll stay in his adopted country for at least awhile longer.
Yousofi was a recent guest of Lynn and Bruce Buckmaster of Astoria. The San Francisco resident is a dealer in Middle Eastern rugs and textiles, and supplies pieces for Lynn Buckmaster's shop, Adagio, in Astoria.
Lynn Buckmaster met Yousofi about five years ago at a trade show, where she first saw the handmade Afghan rugs that she now sells at her store.
"I walked by and the rugs caught my eye," she said. "I bought a few, and it's just snowballed."
When Buckmaster opened Adagio last year, Yousofi came to the grand opening. He returned this fall with more rugs for a sale at the store - and brought stories of his visit back to his native country.
Yousofi returned in May to his native town of Kandahar for the first time in more than a decade, meeting with friends and relatives still recovering from years of warfare and repression from the fundamentalist Taliban regime.
He hadn't been back since his family - father, mother, two brothers and two sisters - left the country, first to neighboring Pakistan then eventually to the United States, where they settled in the San Francisco area, home to many Afghans.
Kandahar was the spiritual home of the Taliban, and was the last city to fall in the U.S.-led war launched after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Already battered, like the rest of the country, from decades civil war, it suffered more damage in the most recent fighting and is still largely in ruins, he said.
Despite being a one-time Taliban stronghold, the city's residents seemed relieved to have the hard-line regime and its followers gone, he said. But overcoming the repression they endured under the fanatically rigid rulers is taking longer. Young men he watched playing soccer rarely yelled out during play - the Taliban were so strict in their control of public behavior that even cheering a goal during an informal soccer game was forbidden.
"It was a very bad time," he said.
Along with the all-covering burquas forced on Afghanistan women, one of the most visible symbols of the Taliban's rule were the full beards that all adult males were required to grow. With the Taliban's departure, many men, especially in Kabul, celebrated by going clean-shaven. Few men in Kandahar have yet taken that step, "but they made their beards shorter," he laughed.
Local residents said there may have been fighters from the al-Qaida terrorist group in Kandahar as well, but they weren't easy to distinguish from the Taliban. "They all had beards, they all looked the same," he said.
Yousofi said he's experienced no anti-Muslim backlash following the Sept. 11 attacks. Many friends called him in the days after to make sure he was all right, and schoolteachers called the worried parents of their Muslim and Arab students to ensure them their children would be safe at school, he said.
With the Taliban knocked from power, many Afghans living abroad, especially older people, want to return. Yousofi said he eventually wants go back to his homeland, too, but the many problems still plaguing the country, including the lack of housing that has thousands living in tents, mean he probably will not leave anytime soon.
"I like America - it's nice, it's a free country," he said. "But I miss my country."
Despite the years of warfare and instability, Afghan rug-makers were able to continue their craft, many as refugees in Pakistan, and many have now returned to Afghanistan. Most rugs come from the northern part of the country, including Mazar-e-Sharif and surrounding villages, as well as Herat near the western border with Iran.
A larger-sized piece can take a skilled rug-maker six months or more to produce, he said. Afghan rugs are gaining a reputation for quality that rivals better-known and more expensive Persian rugs.
Buckmaster said she not only found the rugs more affordable than she expected, she also loved the warm colors, and they've become popular items at her store.
Yousofi was a big help when she opened up Adagio last year, providing her with a large number of rugs to sell on consignment, something he normally doesn't do, she said.
"He said, 'Let me help you out,'" she said.