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Sun June 23, 2013
An American Considers Her Business Prospects In Kabul
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In the years following the U.S. invasion, the Afghan capital teemed with Americans and Europeans. Most of them moved in with the security forces and the United Nations. Others, like Sarah Takesh, came to Kabul for a very different reason - to start businesses. In 2003, just a year after the U.S. invasion, Takesh set up a clothing company, employing Afghan women to embroider skirts and tops. She was optimistic about Afghanistan, as were most Afghans. But by 2008, it felt dangerous.
SARAH TAKESH: In Kabul, security was disintegrating and it turned into this, like, sort of wild scene of kidnappings and all kinds of craziness.
MARTIN: Takesh spoke to us from Dubai where she now lives. She said that craziness seemed distant from own life until an acquaintance of hers was kidnapped.
TAKESH: You always imagined that these kidnappings occurred in a way that was very sort of quasi-civilized...
TAKESH: ...where people were just put in a room and given some bad food and they just waited out their period until someone rescued them in some way. But it turns out that he was kept in a hole under the ground. And what these lunatics had done was dug a hole in a yard. They had dropped him in there.
And, a week or two before, the son of a banker in Kabul had also been picked up by the same gang. So he was put into this whole that wasn't more than like a few feet in either direction. And they basically buried them alive in this hole. And these people almost suffocated to death down there.
MARTIN: Wow. I want to ask you more about that earlier time, but first to back up even more. Your family is originally from Iran but you were raised in California.
MARTIN: You have an MBA from Berkeley. You could've written your ticket to anywhere. Why Afghanistan?
TAKESH: Well, I always had like love of intrepid travel and had gone to all kinds of weird places that I would manage to get myself to. And seeing Central Asia for the first time, seeing the CARICOM Highway and the Old Silk Road, and seeing this medley of (unintelligible) and strange cultural influences mixing the way they did in this old, like, land of Shangri-La, like, completely put a spell on me. And I wanted to - I just wanted to be there.
MARTIN: So you move to Kabul. You start this business. It was kind of a heavy, optimistic time in those first years after the U.S. invasion. There were all kinds of entrepreneurs like yourself who were trying to make a go of it. You ended up getting this contract with the U.S. government to manufacture uniforms for the Afghan National Security Forces. So this was a big operation you had developed.
TAKESH: It grew. It grew. It was so blessed for a long period of time. It was really wonderful. And a lot of the officers that were minding our work were very happy with us because they saw that we were making a really sincere effort at reinvesting into the local industry, trying to engender something out of all of this.
MARTIN: You ended up selling your business.
MARTIN: You moved to Dubai to start a family. Has it been a hard transition for you? I mean you were financially invested in Afghanistan. But more than that, you were emotionally invested in this place.
TAKESH: In the early days of being in Dubai, I was pretty much just going crazy. These two cities could not be more different from each other in a lot of ways. You've got the Persian Gulf and the like sort of oil tankers out there and the sort of dead, dead, dead desert energy here. And then you have like Afghanistan, which is one of the most intoxicating, special places that anyone has ever seen - even under the circumstances that we were experiencing it, with all the violence and everything.
MARTIN: You went to Afghanistan in the first place because you had this entrepreneurial, adventurous kind of spirit. But in the end, I mean you built this business, you were investing in Afghanistan's future. I wonder now, as the U.S. and international troops are leaving, do you think the impact that you made there and other internationals, by building businesses, do you think that will sustain?
TAKESH: I think that something has changed there once and for all. People are very saddened by it. They think that, oh my God, everything is a disaster, that places is a complete lost cause, everything we spent there is a complete waste. It is absolutely not true. What I've observed on my own, the money that got poured into that country - even though a lot of the actual deliberate projects that were instituted, many of them sort of didn't go anywhere. All the money that went in that country and stirred the place up and made it boomtown for a few years, and in a very chaotic, unintentional way affected the lives of so many hundreds of thousands of people.
And the young people there, the young people, a lot of them had an opportunity to make money, to go to school, and they are now a little older and they're connected. They're connected by the Internet. And that connectivity, you can't reverse that. You've just transformed an entire generation of people.
MARTIN: Sarah Takesh, she started a clothing line and manufacturing company in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Thank you so much for talking with us, Sarah.
TAKESH: Thank you, Rachel.
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MARTIN: In Turkey, another violent protest in Istanbul Saturday broke six days of calm in that city. Many Turks are wondering how this will all end, what the future holds for Turkey and democracy. That, and the day's top news on NPR's MORNING EDITION. You're listening to NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.