Holed up in a dormitory in Kabul, Qudrat Frotan breaks down remembering the final time he stepped outdoors. The 23-year-old was among the many determined Afghans who swarmed the worldwide airport on Monday to flee the nation after the Taliban captured the capital. An explosion, the ensuing stampede and accidents to his roommate made Frotan retreat.
“My pal has 16 stitches on his head. His proper arm is damaged. I noticed two ladies mendacity on the bottom however nobody dared to choose them up and take them to the hospital,” Frotan tells The Indian Express. “I rushed again to the dormitory and haven’t left. I’m like a prisoner. All I’m listening to is that the Taliban are inspecting homes and folks on their checklist are being taken away.”
Frotan has cause to be nervous.
“We labored for peace and equality among the many girls and boys of Afghanistan by way of parkour. That’s towards the desire of the Taliban, and something towards their will is punished.”
Frotan, one of many architects of Afghanistan’s vibrant parkour scene, taught younger acrobats to leap, roll, vault over and underneath the obstacles within the urbanscape. In 2018, he based the Afghan Parkour Society which organised workshops and reveals in 18 provinces. Final 12 months, he was adjudged ‘Peace Ambassador’ by the Worldwide Parkour Federation.
“I don’t assume we can work with Afghan youth anymore,” Frotan says. “Most of our energetic members have gone to Iran, Pakistan… I’m scared and ready for assist. If nothing occurs, I must go to Iran illegally.”
From its roots in army coaching in pre-World Conflict I France, parkour, or free-running, advanced into an underground excessive sport, then a metaphysical martial artwork, earlier than changing into the most recent health craze amongst gymnasium rats. Its exponents are a part of Madonna’s dance troupe and James Bond’s rogues’ gallery. They’re topics of documentaries and YouTube movies of daredevilry and one-upmanship.
In Afghanistan, nonetheless, parkour meant freedom. The practitioners, at present working away and laying low, have spent their lives working by way of obstacles and by no means staying nonetheless. The streets patrolled by gunmen now have been a playground and canvas rolled into one. Extensive-eyed pedestrians and motorists stopped to observe because the teams scaled drainage pipes and backflipped off partitions. Kabul was the pleasant neighbourhood and the pioneers of parkour its Spider-Males.
“The youngsters actually admired us. They’d inform us, ‘You might be leaping, flying like Spider-Man’,” Jamil Shirzad affords a weak giggle. “They noticed the cartoons and movies and witnessed the stunts in actual life. That impressed them.”
Shirzad, 28, based the Kabul Boys Parkour near a decade in the past. What started as a three-man operation grew to incorporate 60 members. The group’s progress has been catalogued by a number of documentaries.
“We made motivational movies for individuals who are actually hopeless in Afghanistan. We carried out for youths in orphanages and on stay tv. There have been aggressive occasions as nicely,” says Shirzad. “The expertise in Afghanistan attracted overseas journalists, parkour athletes to return right here and make documentaries. We filmed with BBC, Voice of America, Discovery. Journalists and parkour fanatics from Czech Republic, Germany, China, Japan, Pakistan and Iran came around us.”
With nice energy, got here nice duty.
“Parkour was about introducing a brand new sport to the youth and in addition to point out the optimistic facet of Afghanistan to the world,” Shirzad says.
With an absence of gymnasium and coaching amenities, Afghan parkour took to the warfare ruins on the sting of Kabul. Scaling and leaping from one level to a different within the dilapidated buildings served two functions: harder ‘impediment programs’ and reminders of the nation’s strife-filled historical past.
“The youth of Afghanistan didn’t wish to return to the bitter historical past. These wars in Afghanistan had left everybody traumatised. They have been all in search of peace and freedom, which they present in parkour,” says Frotan. “Younger individuals have been very annoyed and there was no belief amongst them. Everybody was dealing with psychological challenges. By doing parkour, they discovered tips on how to recover from the psychological blocks in addition to the issues of their lives. Pondering is the answer, not violence.”
The parkour collective was additionally a battle for gender equality; the teams consider that the act of educating ladies has made them targets.
“We fought for gender rights, to coach ladies to be energetic, to coach ladies in self-defence. They’d carry out on the streets,” says Shirzad. “It was about going in the direction of a greater future and a greater life however that dream has been shattered. We live in a nightmare now.”
As of Friday night, Shirzad hasn’t slept in 60 hours. Like the remainder of his Kabul Boys Parkour colleagues, he too is in hiding. The times are spent awaiting calls from his mom and siblings and directing his teammates to completely different, safer areas.
“In Taliban’s minds, we have been breakdancing, free-running with foreigners and journalists. We have been introducing the tradition to them, which is out of Islam. That we have been informing them,” he says. “They’re with their vehicles in all places, carrying weapons. It’s a very scary scenario for us and our solely dream is survival proper now.”
Survival, even day-to-day, is difficult.
“There’s no marketplace for the distributors. There’s no meals on the desk of poor individuals. The banks are closed, ATMs are closed. Every little thing’s frozen. No person has any money. To even get some meals is changing into tough. We’ve 4 hours of electrical energy and the web could be very costly. There’s no method of staying linked with one another.”
Shirzad says he’s taking a danger each time he posts on Instagram, asking for serving to arms and protected passage. The parkour fraternity has been supportive however the group requires tangible help.
“I can be a loser chief if I go away Afghanistan earlier than my members. The embassies are solely evacuating those that work with them. We have been activists for sports activities, we have been activists for gender rights, we have been activists for motivating the youth, performing and educating freed from price. However we is not going to be thought of.”
Shirzad spent years educating a mantra to the Afghan youth: “you may soar over any impediment.” He admits the present problem although appears insurmountable.
“As a frontrunner, I can not settle for failure. However the actuality is that this isn’t simply the tip of parkour in Afghanistan. It seems like the tip of all life.”