I met him on a bus in Istanbul. We were all on our way to the airport until the heavy grey cloud that had been threatening rain all day finally released a torrent of water. The gutters flooded and the bus had difficulty making any headway through the busy streets as the water lapped around the door and traffic came to a standstill. We had plenty of time to talk, or rather, shout over the noise of the thunder. We chatted about where we were heading and he said he had been in Istanbul on a short break but was now returning to Afghanistan where he had set up a company to distill oil from flowers, especially roses, and turn the oils into perfume. The oils would be 100% natural and local communities would grow the roses and manufacture the oils.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear ‘Afghanistan’ I think of destruction, bombings, Taliban, war, suffering and sand in every crease of your body. The country looks like one big desert when it is shown on the TV news. So I was very surprised to learn roses grow well there. The air is so pure and free of pollution, he told me, which is important for ensuring the purity of the essential oils, attar of roses, when it is extracted from the petals. There are obviously parts of Afghanistan that the viewing public don’t get to see.
I often think of Mathieu when I see news from Afghanistan and I wonder how the rose farms are going and if he is safe. Today I found the card he had given to me. It is too pretty to be called a business card, more like a little gift card, with a photo of a rose on the front and inside, ‘ Gulestan, Fleurs d’Afghanistan.’ The description of the project is in French. Such a contrast, roses and Afghanistan.