Monterey business imports Middle Eastern crafts with the hope of inspiring mutual respect.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
This story began in Iraq, where Alex Bokde was deployed in 2003, along with a dozen other local National Guardsmen, members of Seaside’s 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion. He saw destruction and horror. He also saw beauty.
He learned about the rich culture of the region, and he sent a piece—a handmade carpet—home to his girlfriend, Sigrid Daffner.
Bokde came home last spring. “I started trying to get used to life here again,” he says, “And trying to figure out what to do with my life.”
Daffner interrupts. “I said, ‘Why don’t you start a business?’” she remembers.
That was in March 2004. Two months later, the couple, with a third partner, Richard W. Chaptini, started a business, Endeavor International Trading Company, selling handmade carpets from Central and Southwest Asia.
“I want people to understand the beauty of the region as well as the conflict,” Bokde says.
The three partners come from diverse backgrounds. Bokde is originally from Argentina, and earned his degree at the University of California at Los Angeles, in Chinese. He’s one semester away from earning his MBA at MIIS. Chaptini is originally from Lebanon, and earned his degree from Universite St. Joseph, Beirut, in Business Administration. He’s currently in the Middle East, working as an interpreter and cultural advisor to the US. Daffner was born in Germany, earned her master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, in German Literature. She teaches at York School.
Today, Bokde and Daffner sit in their showroom, located above Starbucks in downtown Monterey, surrounded by carpets and kilims, Egyptian jewelry boxes, pashminas, handbags from Nepal and colorful glass necklaces from Lebanon. The showroom is open by appointment, and the carpets and crafts are also sold at the Tuesday afternoon Farmer’s Market on Alvarado Street. The exotic pieces are all unique, and made by hand by families and villages.
Unlike most trading companies, Endeavor International hand-selects the goods it sells from homes in the Middle East. Chaptini travels to different villages, meets the village people, and buys the wares directly. This allows Endeavor International Trading Company to sell the carpets and other collectibles at more reasonable prices than other sellers. It also allows the three to get to know people across the Middle East, and to learn about the ancient cultures and customs. “From Cairo to Nepal, and everything in between,” Bokde says.
Bokde, on his computer, opens a slide show of Maldan village, in Western Turkey, where families can spend up to a year crafting carpets. In one picture, a woman, Aysha, is hand knotting wool on a loom. In another, a man holds a root, which will be used to make dye. Another picture shows men boiling and stirring the dye. In yet another, a woman collects wool, recently shorn from village sheep.
“Someone has to go to the village and spend a whole day talking with the villagers,” Bokde says. “You talk, you drink tea, you talk to the family, and then late in the afternoon, you bring up business. We’ve become friends with the people from the village.
“Carpet making is a very ancient tradition in the Middle East. We treat everyone we work with with a lot of respect and dignity—like we would want to be treated.”
Adds Daffner, “It’s this whole mission of letting people know that Americans support them.”
Their collection includes a wide variety of carpets in different sizes—from two feet by two feet up to nine feet by 14 feet—and colors. They are priced from $50 to more than $5,000.
“What we can’t do: When someone says, ‘Can you get me that carpet in a five by six?’” Daffner says. “No. These are not mass-produced. These are pieces of art.”
Bokde shows a Kashmiri carpet. It’s made from silk and cotton. He points to birds and flower petals in the design. “This is actually a Persian influence,” he says.
“When people come to our showroom, I tell them about the people who made the carpet. I tell them about the guard [(the outer border)]. I tell them about the field [(inside the guard)] and what it means. I tell them about the colors. Anyone who comes in here also gets a lesson about the Middle East.”
And, she adds, don’t be afraid to walk on the carpets. They’re strong, well-made, and intended to be passed down from generation to generation.
“You will be able to walk on them,” she says. “Your children will be able to walk on them.”
ENDEAVOR INTERNATIONAL TRADING COMPANY IS LOCATED AT 467 ALVARADO ST., NUMBER 22, IN MONTEREY. 657-9520.