Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Skateistan Pushes For Girls' Empowerment in Afghanistan

afghanistan girls skateboarding, central asian small group tours
Poster for Skateistan's new campaign featuring Afghan skateboarders
Skateistan, the non-profit organization, which uses skateboarding and education for youth empowerment, unveils a new fundraising campaign - "Give Her Five”.

The campaign highlights the positive impact Skateistan is having on the lives of girls in Afghanistan.

It launches with an inspiring animation called "Her Story" about an Afghan girl empowered by skateboarding and education.

From December 5th, Skateistan is asking the public to Give Her Five by donating $5 in a bid to raise $100,000 by December 31st. Skateistan believes girls have an equal right to be safe, play sport, go to school, have confidence and become leaders: 50% of their students are girls.

At their Skate Schools in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa, girls are skateboarding and learning together in much-needed safe spaces. Since 2009, skateboarding has proven to be a powerful tool for girls to access education, with Afghanistan being home to the highest percentage of female skateboarders in the world.

afghanistan girls skateboarding, central asian small group tours
Girls riding their boards at Skateistan, Afghanistan
"This is a very important campaign because girls deserve the same chances in life that boys get. The Skateistan community cares a lot about girls empowerment and you can support this!" says Skateistan Executive Director, Australian Oliver Percovich.

About one-third of countries in developing regions still need to achieve gender parity in primary education, but Skateistan is actively working to change that and provide opportunities for girls.

Throughout “Give Her Five” Skateistan will share real-life stories of empowerment. From girls who have found their confidence through sport, to students who have gained scholarships to private school and women who have traveled overseas to skateboard with the world’s best.

Skateistan has proven that when given the right opportunities, girls can change their lives, their communities and ultimately the world.

Consider making this your Christmas/New Year gift - donate $5 today.

Watch the new and very cool 2-minute animation narrated by an Afghan girl, below. (If the video clip does not appear on your device, please go directly to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFSKO_z2ibo ).

Related posts:   White Silk Road - Snowboarding Afghanistan
Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding 
Afghanistan's First Mixed Gender Team to Take on Ultramarathon 


Monday, November 28, 2016

Fidel Castro in Uzbekistan

fidel castro visit uzbekistan, small group tours uzbekistan, uzbekistan art craft tours
Fidel Castro, in traditional Uzbek coat and skullcap, Tashkent, 1963
In spring 1963, four years after the revolution in Cuba, the 36-year old Fidel Castro first visited the USSR .

Diplomatic relations were established between Havana and Moscow in 1959. However, relations between the two nations' leaders cooled in 1962, when Nikita Khrushchev removed Soviet missiles from the Caribbean island following an agreement with US President John F. Kennedy.

Castro claimed the Soviet leader did it all behind his back. To improve relations with Cuba, Khrushchev personally invited Castro to travel to the USSR.

The visit lasted about 40 days, in which the revolutionary leader made an exciting tour all around the Soviet Union.

Compared to the grey-suited apparatchiks, Fidel Castro was like a rock star: young, handsome, dashingly dressed in his army fatigues. Crowds of Soviet citizens - young and old - thronged to greet him.

In Uzbekistan he visited cotton farms, young pioneer groups and the impressive Golodnaya Steppe (also known as the Hungry Steppe). 

fidel castro visit uzbekistan, small group tours uzbekistan, uzbekistan art craft tours
Fidel Castro drives a tractor at Kzyl Uzbekistan collective farm
Begun in 1956, this was a Soviet agricultural project on a grand scale, to cultivate the naturally saline virgin lands, an area of 10,000 square kilometres in Eastern Uzbekistan, about 160 kilometres from Tashkent. 

Castro also visited some of Samarkand's famous monuments. He made a point of spontaneous visits to ordinary working people, much to the chagrin of the carefully stage-managed Soviet program.

There is another Fidel Castro - Uzbekistan connection. Sharaf Rashidov, the Secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party from 1959 until 1983, was hand-picked by Khruschev to head one of the most important Soviet diplomatic missions. Rashidov was highly respected because of his excellent communication abilities and tact.

According to Open Central Asia magazine: "In the early 1960s, worried about the US deployment of military bases in Italy and Turkey, Khruschev was desperately looking for a counter balance against Washington. He eventually decided on Cuba.

fidel castro visit uzbekistan, small group tours uzbekistan, uzbekistan art craft tours
Fidel Castro in Samarkand spring 1963
Following the economic blockade of the Cubans, Khruschev had to convince Castro to accept the USSR’s protection and benefits in exchange for permission to establish Soviet military bases on the island.

According to Valentin Falin, a Soviet diplomat, the Cuban operation was highly confidential and only a few in the Politbiuro knew about it.

In May 1962, the USSR delegation led by Rashidov was described in the media as a visit of “irrigators and meliorators led by the head of an agricultural, cotton-producing republic”. 

This was a cover up for the Western intelligence which was not supposed to know that the head of the cotton producing republic was secretly entrusted to speak with Castro and deliver the Soviet proposal to deploy missiles on Cuba in order to deter a possible US strike.

The missiles and the personnel were supposed to be shipped on ships which would pretend to transport agricultural industry machines for irrigation. Given that such machines were produced in Uzbekistan, Rashidov’s leadership of the mission was not expected to raise suspicions".

Sharaf Rashidov and Fidel Castro meet young pioneers
Sharaf Rashidov and Fidel Castro meet young pioneers
Every step of Fidel Castro's visit to the USSR was well documented. A newsreel film titled The Guest From the Island of Freedom is available for viewing here: https://www.net-film.eu/film-5775

Note that there are seven parts of the film. For the remarkable Uzbek footage, scroll down to Reel 4 and watch the first four minutes.

Related posts:
Remembering Muhammad Ali’s Visit To Uzbekistan
Langston Hughes: An African American Writer in Central Asia in the 1930s
Sidney Jackson - An American Boxer in Uzbekistan
Arminius Vámbéry: a Dervish Spy in Central Asia

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sacrament of Magic Yarn - Madina Kasimbaeva's Exhibition, Tashkent

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
The magical installation of Madina Kasimbaeva's  "The Sacrament of Magic Yarn" exhibition


Tashkent has been a treat for exhibitions this autumn. The stand-out was Madina Kasimbaeva's  "The Sacrament of Magic Yarn".

Madina is an acclaimed embroiderer, who won the 2016 Best Crafts Person of Uzbekistan prize for her extraordinary work and contribution to Uzbek applied arts traditions.

Although her grandmother embroidered skullcaps, Madina does not come from an embroidery dynasty. In fact, her parents hoped that she would become a translator. However, after  excelling in gold embroidery techniques at high school, she entered the Tashkent Republican Art College named after P.P. Benkov, in the School of Fashion Design.

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
Detail from a chapan (Uzbek robe) at Madina Kasimbaeva's  "The Sacrament of Magic Yarn" exhibition

It was there that she started to seriously research the varied embroidery traditions of all Uzbek provinces. Her talent was recognized early and at age 20, in 2007, she became a member of the National Union of People's Craftsmen and Artisans - known as Hunarmand. In 2008 she participated in Fashion Week, Milan, where her jackets and accessories were snapped up instantly.

Committed to educating Uzbeks about their unique traditions and ensuring those traditions flourish, Madina took a mirco-credit loan in 2008 and has since trained over 500 young women in suzani embroidery techniques.

Madina has proudly represented the applied arts traditions of Uzbekistan in exhibitions in Moscow, Baku, South Korea, Europe and the US. She regularly participates in the Santa Fe International Folk Fair.

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
The second room of the exhibition  of Madina Kasimbaeva's Sacrament of Magic Yarn

In this exhibition Madina again collaborated with art historian Binafsha Nodir and again the exhibition was held at the Tashkent House of Photography. The light in the building is excellent and renowned Uzbek artist Babur Ismailov coordinated the installation of chapans (traditional robes). 

The chapans were embroidered using techniques from the major Uzbek embroidery regions: Bukhara, Samarkand, Nurata, Shakhrisabz and Tashkent.

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
Unusually, this chapan (Uzbek robe) was embroidered in wool.

Recently Uzbek Journeys organised a suzani master class with Madina at her home in Tashkent. Some clients were already skilled sewers and others, dilettantes. However, we were all flabbergasted at how difficult and time consuming suzani embroidery is.

After about 40 minutes of generally slow and poor progress, we abandoned our class and instead raided Madina's collection - many of the pieces were being made for this exhibition. Her work is easily the finest quality in Uzbekistan.

Madina does not have a website, however, on an Uzbek Journeys tour a visit to Madina's boutique in the old city is included. Some of her accessories are also sold in Tashkent stores. You can also contact Madina, who speaks Russian, Uzbek and some English at this email:



Please enjoy more images of Madina Kasimbaeva's work below.

Related posts:
Uzbek Suzanis - Like Flowers in the Sand
Valentino Haute Couture Meets Suzani
Suzanis as Upholstery: the Brilliance of Bokja Design
Symbols in Stitches: Uzbek Suzanis 

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
Detail of silk on silk fine stitching at Madina Kasimbaeva's  "The Sacrament of Magic Yarn" exhibition

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
Renowned Uzbek artist Babur Ismailov preparing the installation in the Tashkent House of Photography

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
Art historian Binafsha Nodi, left, and Madina Kasimbaeva, right, at the exhibition opening

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
A charming pair of Madina's ballet flats

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
A pomegranate embroidered wall hanging. Note Madina's signature bottom right.