Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Weaving Peace In Tehran

Easter Sunday I awoke to Tehran traffic outside my hotel window. Some wrestled the tangle of cars and pedestrians on their way to mass at the nearby Orthodox Church. I prepared for my own spiritual journey, the reason I had traveled through eleven time zones and half way around the world: to weave a knot on Iran’s World Peace Carpet, a project sponsored by UNESCO and the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicraft Organization of Iran. For a tapestry weaver and author (my first novel was inspired by an Afshar tribal rug), tying a goodwill knot on this carpet, along with 700 others from 89 nations, seemed every bit as reverent as attending Easter Mass.

My desire to participate in the Peace Carpet stemmed from a long-held appreciation for Iranian culture, in particular its carpets and poetry, which are often literately woven together. On a visit to the carpet dealers’ bazaar in Tehran I discovered several carpets with phrases of Hafez, Ferdowsi and Sa’adi or pictorial images of these poets incorporated into the design.

I have always admired, if not romanticized, the lives of nomadic peoples and, like Iranian nomads, I learned to raise sheep, spin and dye wool with natural materials, and weave tapestries that are much like Persian gelims. I discovered that colors have meanings and rugs contain amulets against the evil eye. Themes such as these inspired my novel about a young nomadic carpet weaver, which in turn led to an invitation in 2005 to participate in Iran’s First International Children’s Book Festival. I remember how elated I had felt that February morning when my plane touched down on Iranian soil. In love with Iranian culture, I could hardly wait to meet its people, with whom I bonded readily during that trip, often more easily than with people of my own culture.

Thus, when I heard about this UNESCO peace project, I couldn’t think of a more perfect excuse to revisit these friends. It was also a way to release my long-held frustrations over the poor foreign relations between our countries and the palpable mistrust of Iranians among many Americans. I wanted to weave peace in Tehran.

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