Afghan Cy­cles

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - BOOKS & FILMS - di­rected by Sarah Men­zies pro­duc­tion by Let Me­dia

The pace and vi­su­als of Sarah Men­zies’s doc­u­men­tary Afghan cy­cles al­most min­i­mize the dan­ger cy­clists face in Afghanistan. The film fol­lows mem­bers of the women’s na­tional cy­cling team from 2013 to roughly the be­gin­ning of this year. There are shots of the women rid­ing roads flanked by a rocky land­scape mixed with talk­ing-head in­ter­views. There are few im­ages of vi­o­lence, none with any of the rid­ers, so it can look as if Afghanistan is just an ex­otic place to ride. But vi­o­lence is ev­ery­where. Frozan, the fo­cus of the doc­u­men­tary, talks about four boys driv­ing up to her near the end of a ride, two with pis­tols. They said that what­ever would hap­pen to her if they found her rid­ing again would be her fault. A mem­ber of the Tal­iban opines about how women wear­ing pants in the bazaar should be mowed down with a ma­chine gun. He equates rid­ing a bi­cy­cle with wear­ing a hi­jab im­prop­erly. The Tal­iban mem­ber keeps his face cov­ered the the whole time, re­main­ing anony­mous. The women cy­clists keep as cov­ered as pos­si­ble dur­ing their rides, and of­ten ride in se­cret, yet they’re still known to the pub­lic, and even garner me­dia cov­er­age.

“We are afraid that if the Tal­iban comes, the first thing they will do is kill cy­cling girls,” says Ma­soma, Frozan’s team­mate. She adds that even if the Tal­iban were to cap­ture and re­lease the women, they’d have to kill them­selves. “We would have nei­ther our re­spect, nor our hon­our,” she says of the con­di­tion they’d be in fol­low­ing such events.

So why do they ride? For Ma­soma, it’s the duty to fin­ish what she calls a pro­fes­sion. “Some peo­ple sac­ri­fice their lives so oth­ers can be com­fort­able,” she says. “We might be the first scri­fi­cers for cy­cling in Afghanistan.”

All rid­ers know the sense of free­dom that comes with rid­ing a bike. For these women, cy­cling was a fight for free­dom.

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