Trapped in a dormitory in Kabul, Qudrat Frotan collapses and remembers the last time he went outside. The 23-year-old was one of the desperate Afghans who swarmed the international airport to flee the country on Monday after the Taliban captured the capital. An explosion, the resulting rush and injuries to his roommate forced Frotan to retreat.
“My friend has 16 stitches on his head. His right arm is broken. I saw two girls lying on the floor, but no one dared pick them up and take them to the hospital, ”Frotan told The Indian Express. “I rushed back to the dorm and didn’t go. I am like a prisoner. All I hear is that the Taliban are inspecting houses and people on their list are being taken away. “
Frotan has cause for concern.
“We campaigned for peace and equality among boys and girls in Afghanistan through parkour. This is against the will of the Taliban, and anything against their will will be punished. “
Frotan, one of the architects of Afghanistan’s vibrant parkour scene, taught young acrobats to jump, roll, and jump over and under the obstacles of the urban landscape. In 2018 he founded the Afghan Parkour Society, which organized workshops and shows in 18 provinces. Last year he was named “Ambassador of Peace” by the International Parkour Federation.
“I don’t think we can work with Afghan youth any more,” says Frotan. “Most of our active members went to Iran, Pakistan… I’m scared and waiting for help. If nothing happens, I will have to enter Iran illegally. “
From its roots in military training in France before World War I, parkour or freerunning evolved into an underground extreme sport, then a metaphysical martial art, before becoming the latest fitness craze among fitness rats. Its exponents are part of Madonna’s dance troupe and James Bond’s villain gallery. They are the subject of documentaries and YouTube videos about daring and arrogance.
In Afghanistan, however, parkour meant freedom. The practitioners who are currently running away and lying down have spent their lives walking through obstacles and never remaining still. The streets patrolled by armed men were now a playground and a screen rolled into one. Wide-eyed pedestrians and drivers paused to watch the groups climb drainpipes and bounce off walls. Kabul was the friendly neighborhood and the pioneers of parkour, its spider-men.
“The children admired us very much. They told us: ‘You jump and fly like Spider-Man’ ”, Jamil Shirzad laughs weakly. “You’ve seen the cartoons and movies and seen the stunts in real life. That inspired her. “
Shirzad, 28, founded the Kabul Boys Parkour almost a decade ago. What began as a three-man business grew to 60 members. The group’s progress has been cataloged by several documentaries.
“We made motivational videos for those who are really hopeless in Afghanistan. We performed for children in orphanages and on live television. There were also competitive events, ”says Shirzad. “The talent in Afghanistan has drawn foreign journalists and parkour athletes to come here and make documentaries. We shot with the BBC, Voice of America, Discovery. Journalists and parkour enthusiasts from the Czech Republic, Germany, China, Japan, Pakistan and Iran came to us. “
With great strength came great responsibility.
“Parkour was about introducing a new sport to the youth and also showing the world the positive side of Afghanistan,” says Shirzad.
In the absence of fitness and training facilities, Afghan parkour moved to the war ruins on the outskirts of Kabul. Scaling and jumping from one point to another in the ramshackle buildings served two purposes: tougher “obstacle courses” and reminders of the nation’s conflicted history.
“The youth of Afghanistan did not want to go back to the bitter history. Those wars in Afghanistan had traumatized everyone. They were all looking for the peace and freedom they found in parkour, ”says Frotan. “The young people were very frustrated and there was no trust between them. Everyone faced psychological challenges. Through parkour they learned to overcome the mental blocks and the problems in their life. Thinking is the solution, not violence. “
The parkour collective was also a struggle for gender equality; the groups believe that women’s education has made them target.
“We fought for gender rights, to train girls, to be active, to train girls in self-defense. They performed in the street, ”says Shirzad. “It was about going to a better future and a better life, but that dream was shattered. We are now living in a nightmare. “
Shirzad has not slept for 60 hours since Friday evening. Like the rest of his Kabul Boys Parkour colleagues, he is also hiding. The days are spent waiting for calls from his mother and siblings and directing his teammates to other, safer places.
“In the minds of the Taliban we were breakdancing, freerunning with foreigners and journalists. We introduced them to the culture that comes from Islam. That we informed them, ”he says. “They drive their cars everywhere and carry weapons. It’s a very scary situation for us and our only dream right now is survival. “
Survival, even in everyday life, is a challenge.
“There is no market for the sellers. There is no food on the poor people’s table. The banks are closed, ATMs are closed. Everything is frozen. Nobody has cash. It becomes difficult to get anything to eat at all. We have four hours of electricity and the internet is very expensive. There is no way to keep in touch with each other. “
Shirzad says he takes a risk every time he posts on Instagram asking for helping hands and safe passage. The Parkour Brotherhood supported us, but the group needs concrete help.
“I will be a loser if I leave Afghanistan in front of my members. The embassies only evacuate those who work with them. We were activists for sport, we were activists for gender rights, we were activists for youth motivation, for gigs and free teaching. But we are not taken into account. “
For years, Shirzad taught Afghan youth a mantra: “You can jump over any obstacle”. However, he admits that the current challenge seems insurmountable.
“As a manager, I cannot accept mistakes. But the reality is that this is not just the end of parkour in Afghanistan. It feels like the end of all life. “