One Step Beyond – Afghanistan – Bicycle Race
Dr. Baseer, the director of AABRAR (Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation), and his assistant Omara Khan both insist in many emails to us that we come to Jalalabad by October 30th – for that's the day of the large bicycle race of the disabled. 200 people from all over Afghanistan will travel to Jalalabad to participate, including Afghani refugees, who will make the trip from Peshawar, Pakistan.
In the race, five groups set off from four different starting points, and all race to the same goal in Jalalabad. Those in wheelchairs and disabled children have a shorter route than those who have had both legs amputated, or who have a below-the-knee amputation. The longest route in the race is 25 km. The participants are all men: it will be quite a long time before women are also allowed to participate in the event.
Cars and trucks wait patiently behind the bicycle convoys in lines up to several kilometers long, until the starting signal has been given. After that, they drive as is their habit – as if they, alone, are on the road. The cyclists ride so quickly and with such agility – snaking their way through the traffic – they don't seem disabled. And in the background: a caravan, destroyed tanks, village ruins.
At the finish line, the winner is swarmed by onlookers and filmed by a camera team. Then, he's hoisted up onto shoulders. Calm and composed, he tells an interviewer he never doubted he would win. Later, he proudly receives his prize: a bicycle.
The Award Ceremony
Set up in front of the awards podium: bicycles for those who come in first, sewing machines for second place, and a plastic watch for third. The ceremony begins with a short prayer, then a longer speech by the Minister of the Disabled, followed by several other speeches. It's a prize ceremony like anywhere, with certificates and handshakes. The honorary guests are representatives of humanitarian organisations, the Ministry of the Disabled, and the state government.
The difference: these bicycles and wheelchairs aren't sleek high-speed models – they're hazardous home-made constructions with steering wheels from trucks, for instance, or with cranks that have to be turned using hands, rather than feet. These are low-tech improvisations of the highest standards!
Everyone's in a good mood – a few men casually dangle their Kalashnikovs between their feet. People are chattering away in small groups. The sun's rays are shining brightly through the trees.