Monday, January 31, 2011

Furniture Shopping

"We need to go look at a few pieces we have on hold at a furniture shop. Why don't you join us?" I love jumping at invitations like this. More often than not, an adventure is waiting.
The couple who invited us has lived in Islamabad on and off for years on different assignments. We wove through the streets arriving at what I can best describe as a "strip mall". I climbed out of the car, stood for a moment watching the man selling nuts from piles on a rug, and followed the group into the shop. In the narrow store pieces of furniture lined the walls with more in the center creating two aisles. I slowly wandered around stopping to run my hand over different pieces. The furniture this man deals in is uniquely made from old pieces of buildings. When towns tear down old homes and mosques to build new, he buys the old wood. From a door he creates a table or bookcase. An old archway becomes a headboard. As I got to the back of the shop I stopped in front of a piece. I could already imagine it as a t.v. console. It is solid with dovetail corners and intricate carving in the front. My husband comes over. We put it on hold.
It's time to get back into the car. I get in and close the door. A woman approaches, holding her hand out for money. I feel so helpless. I am actually surprised that I have not seen more begging here in Islamabad. We follow the owner to the warehouse to look at some more pieces.
The drive takes me further outside of Islamabad than I have been. The buildings become fewer and poorer. We pass jingle trucks and families on mopeds. Horses and donkeys are pulling carts piled high with stuff. We pull into a parking area. Some men are sitting at a stand selling fruit and drinks. We get out and walk through a door into a "warehouse" area. Old wood is piled everywhere. Small rooms line the courtyard area now used for cutting the wood to craft it into new furniture. My husband and I wander into the rooms looking at piles of uninteresting wood. Then I see a corner of beautifully painted wood sticking out behind a pile. I point, my husband comes over we begin moving a few pieces and then a man comes over and brings the wood out into the courtyard. As he sets it on the ground I realize what a beautiful coffee table this will make. It is the diamond in the rough. It was made by a family in Peshawar who has retained the craft of painting in this style. We begin inquiring about the price and at this point tea arrives. As soon as a customer is becoming serious about making a purchase, drinks are served. Steaming cups of sweet milk chai are passed around and the discussion continues. We put several more pieces on hold.
Now that we have finished our bargaining we notice a group of kids popping their heads in the door watching us with curiosity. We take a few pictures. They love the cameras. The boys ham it up for us but the girls duck their heads in shyness. There is a gleam in their eyes and their smiles are precious. We have fun taking pictures and showing them. We walk with them and try to communicate. They do not speak English, only Urdu.
I get back into the car and as we drive away I think about how enjoyable the last few hours have been. I have seen a glimpse of Pakistan that few others do.

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