Merchant Faiz rolls out the carpet for Afghanistan's finest at CIIE
A carpet merchant from war-torn Afghanistan sought every chance at the 4th China International Import Expo to promote his exquisite handmade carpets and rugs as well as help his fellow Afghans.
Ali Azghar Faiz, 27, said the country's economy depends on agriculture and the handicraft industry. Because of COVID-19 and the domestic situation, people are having a hard time economically. "So this is the time we try our best to do our part and help the country: to help them to promote and sell the products and bring more income to those people which they need right now."
He brought 3.5 tons of handmade carpets and rugs to the expo, estimated to be of more than 200 varieties, and displayed them at the area of his brand Biraro, which means "brothers" in Pashto, Afghanistan's main language.
"Why did we put this name? Because by this name and by the idea behind this company, we want to make the relationship between China and Afghanistan like brothers. We always have had a very good relationship with China all throughout history. We want to make this relationship stronger and be more like a family to each other."
According to Faiz, every carpet is unique. "We cooperate with different people from different parts of Afghanistan. We did our best to bring all kinds of Afghan carpets here to be a good collection of Afghanistan's art.
"Each carpet has a unique tradition. For example, the red one is from southern Afghanistan and is about pomegranate. Through this we promote Afghan pomegranates.
"Different colors mean different tastes of pomegranate. The beauty of colorful carpet means this product is very tasty, sweet, and sour."
The first time that Faiz came to China was in 2014. "At that time, I was studying economics in Afghanistan, but my father was doing trade between Afghanistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Kazakhstan."
Then he wondered why he could not send his products to China, the biggest market in the world. He dropped out of university in Kabul and decided somehow to find a way to China.
He spent almost half a year knocking on every door to get a scholarship or university admission to come to China. Finally, he obtained a scholarship and had the opportunity to study in China. He graduated from the University of Science and Technology Beijing in 2019.
"I learned Chinese first and then I was able to speak Chinese and see how this amazing market works." Around 2019, he started his own business in China.
"Afghanistan and China are very close countries and we have had a good relationship throughout history. But unfortunately, when I came here in 2014 and told people that I'm Afghan, they were surprised at what Afghan people look like. So that means they were not familiar with Afghans. They don't know Afghanistan. They even don't have any idea about Afghanistan," Faiz told Shanghai Daily.
So he felt it was necessary to bring the Afghan culture and handicrafts to China to provide people here a better understanding of Afghanistan.
"How to change this will be the cultural exchange between Afghanistan and China. It's the first time you see Afghan products next to you that you can touch it and feel," said Faiz. "War is only a part of the situation, but there are a lot of amazing people living there with a very long history. We want to create a cultural exchange between Afghanistan and China."
Carpet is the industry that he works in. "I know how tough it is and how hard it is for the people who work in this industry to make carpets." And people weaving carpets are often in very bad economic situation.
"That's how I push myself to work in importing carpet, because a lot of people need it, especially these days since the situation is getting worse with COVID-19 and the Afghanistan situation," said Faiz. "So there is a need for people like me, who are outside of Afghanistan, to be able to do things that can help people inside Afghanistan."
Fortunately, it's easy to import such products to China with respect to issues like customs clearance.
The first batch of carpets he imported to China weighed about 2 tons, and the sales benefited 2,000 families in Afghanistan.
"One big carpet needed four to seven people to work on it, sometimes eight," he said. "These people are not from one family. They come from different families. Each family has one or two kids. So it means the family can have the income."
This year is the second time that his brand has come to the CIIE. The first time he knew about CIIE was on the ceremony day in 2018, which was too late for him to attend the exhibition. In 2019, it was also late for him to apply as an exhibitor.
"Finally, last year we made that happen and we attended CIIE and brought our own products. The second year, we had a bigger space and more different, colorful carpets, and we also had some handcrafts," said he.
"We were also planning to bring pine nuts, but the flight from Afghanistan to China was a bit late. So we couldn't bring them inside CIIE, but soon next week, we will have them in our pavilion at the Greenland Global Commodity Trading Hub in Hongqiao."