Crossroads of two Afghan athletes | Sports
net chandeliers cross. After two days at Kabul airport, he was unable to leave the country. Today, he hardly resists and is asking for help from the international community.
Khater Safi has not been feeling happy since August 13. That day, I attended the last training session of the women’s wheelchair basketball team in Afghanistan. None of the players expected the Taliban to enter Kabul within 48 hours without meeting resistance. His world collapsed. As women, athletes and the disabled, they have seen the curtain fall on their dreams. Only two of them managed to leave Afghanistan, and Safi speaks on behalf of 13 others, with whom he communicated via a WhatsApp group.
“We are all very concerned about the situation. As far as we know, the current government will not allow women to study, work or play sports; we have no hope,” the basketball player sums up in the modest home she and her family moved into as a result of the Taliban’s rise to power. Since then, he finds it difficult to sleep and eats less.
Like the rest of her colleagues, the 26-year-old Safi, originally from Kapisa Province, has achieved a life and perspective that would have been unimaginable just two decades ago, when these same fundamentalists ruled her country. He studied law at Maryam University (privately) and worked in the public prosecution and played basketball with his passion despite his disability. At the beginning of the 15th Sunday, he learned that he had lost everything, including the well-groomed house in which he lived in the center of the Afghan capital.
“It was for rent and without income we can’t pay it,” he says. The fifth of nine brothers, and her salary and the salary of her brother who was a soldier in the dissolved army served in the maintenance of eleven members of the family, from which four girls were emancipated when they married, but increased with men and women. The three eldest sons. “She was in the attorney general’s office for four years, on the team that dealt with discrimination against women, something the Taliban say is against Islamic law,” she said, worried about the whereabouts of two of her colleagues, a married couple, who took the Taliban from his home and did not hear about it again.
If losing your job is hard, knowing you won’t be able to play basketball has made you smile. “I was passionate about it. I always loved sports, all sports. When I was young, I used to see kids in my neighborhood playing volleyball and I wanted to join them, but my older brother wouldn’t let me because I was a girl, which made me so angry,” she recalls. At school there were no facilities for her either.
Against all odds, it was his disability that opened the doors for him to the world of sports. “I was 10 years old when I got meningitis which paralyzed me in half,” he explains. Then they settled in Kandahar, where their father, a military man, was stationed. Shortly after his return to Kabul, the ICRC introduced wheelchair basketball to help rehabilitate and integrate many patients at the orthopedic centre. “I started playing when I was 14; of all those who were playing, they took the best for the national team,” she notes with a mixture of pride and nostalgia.
The team, which began competing internationally in 2017, has become a symbol of the change that has taken place in the lives of Afghans since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001. In their first tournament, the Bali Cup, they won the gold medal. Then came the Asian Paralympics, and although they failed to qualify for Tokyo, the expectations they got were helping improve perceptions of disability and women in sport among Afghans.
In the absence of an official announcement, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural committee, Ahmadullah Wasiq, told Australian television that “the Islamic Emirate will not allow women to play cricket or any other sport” because it is “non-essential” and there is a risk that their “faces and bodies are exposed”. With regard to work activity, at the moment, the fundamentalists allowed only female employees of the health system and early childhood education for girls to continue working.
Since the Taliban arrived in Kabul, the basketball player wanted to leave the country. When foreign forces started evacuating people, they called us to go to the airport. I came with my brother to help me and we waited for two whole days, but the soldiers did not let us through because when they showed us the emails that Mr. Antonio sent us they told us that they are not officers.” Referring to journalist Antonio Pampliga who mobilized on social media to remove team leader Nilufar Bayat Only she and another player, Farzana Mohammadi, succeeded in it, the first in Spain and the second in the United States.
Safi remembers those moments with horror. “the second day [el miércoles 25 de agosto] Amidst the human chaos, the Taliban began shooting in the air and a stampede broke out. People run over me and step on me, and I can’t move my legs so we decided to go home.”
But the difficulties are just beginning. Getting to the place where he now lives with his family is a tedious task even by car, very difficult if I have to walk, and impossible for a person in a wheelchair or on crutches, even with Safi’s iron will. A long road leads up a hill on the northwest edge of Kabul. From there the asphalt disappears and the dirt road narrows between the humble mud-brick buildings. The house lacks a bathroom. To get to the outside toilet, you have to go down two steep stairs without handrails, which the player cannot do without help. “From here I can’t go anywhere. I hope my voice will reach the international community. If I don’t receive help, my life will be ruined because I have no way out of Afghanistan.”
La Cara de Nilufar Bayat. He managed to leave the capital and now lives in a “beautiful” city like Bilbao and trains daily with Bidaideak.
Nilufer Bayat (Kabul, 28) arrived in Bilbao a month ago, when the Taliban had already captured the capital of Afghanistan and his city was completely in chaos. He traveled to Dubai in military transport and later traveled on a government chartered commercial airliner. The first photos of the young athlete and lawyer who worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross before leaving everything behind with her husband Ramesh, which she sent herself, showed them at the airport of the Afghan capital first, in Spanish. Later a military plane was on the tarmac of Torrejón Airport wearing the hijab, the Islamic headscarf that covers women’s heads. When he appeared in public in Bilbao, he no longer wore it. It was a very important gesture. “In Afghanistan, they forced me to wear the scarf, but when I arrived here no one forced me, and I feel free to wear it whenever I want or wear whatever I want. I also like to feel elegant and whether it is my choice to wear it or not.” “I have beautiful hair and I want to show it off, and I’m not told what I can do or not.”
Nilufer is someone who knows what he wants and says. He was able to enter the university thanks to his father’s open spirit and took advantage of it. He speaks English almost perfectly, and is beginning to adapt to his new life. In Beddik, the wheelchair basketball team her husband trains with, is another player of Pakistani descent who speaks Urdu, the Afghan couple’s mother tongue. For Ramesh, who is not fluent in English, this is another way to communicate. Both are already going to Spanish lessons. “In the morning we study the language. It has already been a week. We have to learn it to understand people and know what they say, and also know what they think.”
She left, but many of her classmates were left behind. His eyes sparkle with joy throughout the conversation, but fade when he talks about them: “Yes, I know they are no longer training, and their basketball training has stopped. I was able to talk to some of them on the phone and they are very sad. There, as a basketball player, they have no future. Some managed to move to the United States and some to Italy, but those who stayed were completely in despair. There is no future for women in Afghanistan.”
It was very dark before he left his country. “There were a lot of videos about me on social media, talking about the Taliban, how dangerous they are, how I hate them. And he was talking about how the Taliban hurt me. There was also a video of him playing basketball in public. Plus many other things. Which could be dangerous for me. And if the Taliban found them and knew I was famous, it was easy to find me. So if I was there, they would kill me. It’s something I take for granted,” he points out. “In recent years, women have had the opportunity to go to school, go to work, become models, become actresses or singers. There were women who did all that. Women played sports. In every sport there were women who also practiced. But now , if you look at Afghanistan, it seems that there are only men. I ask the United Nations not to leave the women alone”, because “it is very sad that while other countries are moving forward, Afghanistan is going back twenty years”.
When they arrived in Bilbao, Nilofar and Ramesh were housed in an apartment by the Spanish Commission for Aid to Refugees (CEAR), there near a viewpoint with stunning views of the capital, Biscay. “It’s so beautiful. I never thought I would live in such a beautiful city and would like to stay here. I still don’t know the whole of Bilbao, but it is a very beautiful city. I hope to work and get better, and I would like to express my gratitude to the city for the treatment they gave us.”
The Afghan athlete is now engaged in recognition as a political refugee, to be able to reside with all her rights in Spain. “It is a procedure that will be very long, possibly lasting more than six months, they explained to us. I am still waiting for a first interview with the police so that they can study the documents we collect.” At the moment, his life is like that of an ordinary couple. “In the morning we go to Spanish lessons, then we eat, we do things at home and go to training. I have to prepare hard, because the team is very good and I have to be very strong to be able to compete with them. I have to do a lot of exercises in the gym sports”.
Nilufar’s life changed suddenly. “I feel free and comfortable, the best way of life for women in Spain, because unlike the last days in my country, here I see everyone happy. I see that women are completely different from the women in my country and I like to be like the people of Europe. I love your style.”
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