“I don’t want to do anything else, wherever I am I will always be a woodcarver.”
My name is Syed Jan
I am 59 years old and I am a woodcarver. When I was a kid the thing I was most interested in was carpentry. My whole life, since I was 10 I have been working as a woodcarver.
After working around 10 years with my father, I was a master myself and I started teaching. I taught in Nuristan and in Pakistan and now that I am in Kabul I teach here. I train students. I don’t want to do anything else, wherever I am I will always be a woodcarver.
When I lived in Nuristan I used to work on mosques, carving the doors, windows and columns. I left there nine years ago. The Minister of Finance had some bodyguards from Nuristan and he asked them to find him a Nuristani carpenter and woodcarver. They brought me to Kabul and I worked for him for two or three years making furniture.
I can’t go back to Nuristan, the situation there is very bad. The Taliban won’t let people return if we have worked in Kabul, they say we are the true infidels. If we want to go back they will charge us millions of Afs, and if we don’t have it they will kill us. I haven’t been back for about 4 years. Luckily my family came here with me and we own land and a house.
I am happier in Kabul though. It is a city with lots of facilities. I have a normal life here. I taught my four sons my profession, none of them finished school – they didn’t really like it. Now two of them work as carpenters and woodcarvers – one of them is a teacher like me. The other two work at Bagram Air Base as interpreters. One of them also has a carpentry workshop on the base.
At one time, after I finished working at the Ministry of Finance, I had no job. I started a general store. But it didn’t make enough money. Every day the profit was spent by the evening on the family. I didn’t know what to do; I could not even go back to Nuristan, I had no money. Luckily I met a man who found me a job here teaching woodcarving at Turquoise Mountain.
I like my job here. I get on with my students. I try to encourage them to learn so they can be successful in the future. They make boxes, quran holders and other small things.
The Ministry of Education has got involved in Turquoise Mountain now, they send us students and we have exhibitions. Ministers and foreigners come here and bring visitors. They take pictures and make orders for our work. It is very encouraging for us.
Now the woodcarving business is growing, there are students everywhere. There are factories and schools. Nuristani woodcarving has become more common in Kabul; women have started doing it too.
Afghans can’t afford to buy woodcarving. They don’t really value the work. But luckily the foreigners really like it. They see the value of different woods and different patterns. So we don’t have much business with Afghans but a lot with foreigners. I have a good salary and most of my family has work also.
I want to keep training more students so that our country can be built and developed, so that my students will make money and our heritage will be saved. My message to the youth is to be strong, make money and learn their trade very well – not to be beggars.