In Farsi, Afsana means a legend--stories about individuals who have accomplished extraordinary feats. Filled with lessons about courage and the struggle for justice, the legends are passed down from generation to generation in folktales and textbooks. Like the legends, Afsana--our female cyclist in Kabul--is a warrior in every sense of the word; her feat no less extraordinary.
Afsana is one of only a few female road cyclists in Afghanistan. A member of the national team, she rides the streets of Kabul fully aware of the risks she is taking. Every day is a new challenge: from receiving personal threats to putting up with so many who do not want to see her riding.
We learned about Afsana and her fierce determination to ride after she had gotten into a bike accident. While her broken collarbone could be repaired under surgery, her bicycle was completely ruined. We stepped in to support. What began as our desire to help Afsana with a new bike ended up being a challenging but meaningful journey of its own. For starters, right as we were making arrangements to ship a bike from the United States, the coronavirus pandemic hit the globe, adding more limitation to an already nightmarish shipping system to Afghanistan. But we were determined to make it happen regardless, because Afsana is determined.
In helping Afsana with a bike, we learned a great deal about the state of cycling in Afghanistan, particularly for Afghan women. We learned that people go through so many, almost impossible, obstacles in finding a performance bicycle. For example, Afsana bought her first bike, the one that broke in the accident, from a male cyclist in another city 300 miles away. Before it got to Afsana in 2018, that bicycle had been secondhand-sold so many times, from a 2006 pro European team it traded hands with a few individual owners before making its way to Iran, where it was probably traded a few more times, before that boy in Afghanistan took the daunting and dangerous journey to Iran to buy it, from whom Afsana ended up acquiring it for $300.
She went through all of that to get a bike that is almost 15 years old. And she rides for the Afghan women's national team!
Sending a bike from the United States proved to be just as challenging, if not more. Initially, we wanted someone traveling back to Afghanistan to take it on the plane with them, but with the pandemic causing travel restrictions across the globe, we couldn't find anyone. Thankfully, with the help of incredible individuals and organizations, we were able to send the bike via FedEx before that option could disappear too in today's uncertain world. Though FedEx charged an exorbitant rate, it was more important to get this bike to Afsana than her waiting without a bike. It's been a few days Afsana has her new bike and the accompanying accessories in her possession, and we are deeply grateful to the following people for making it happen:
And lastly, our gratitude goes to Afsana herself for showing so much courage and grit against tremendous odds; for breaking social norms against women's riding; for standing up for other Afghan women and being an exemplary leader in fighting for freedom and equality at such a young age. Ride on, champ!
At a time when the entire world is facing a catastrophe unlike anything we have experienced before, such stories of human cooperation which transcends borders and cultures give us hope. That if we summon our courage to face the odds, we can overcome the challenges lying ahead of us. It is deeply moving to see Afsana reading words of wisdom and encouragement from the Women of Oz (women who share the same passion as her) from 6,000 miles away. More than ever, we need each other regardless of where we are from, in helping shape a better world for us all. Afsana's quest is a small example of that.