Paddle Boats of Afghanistan - Living in Hope

Posted by martin.parnell |
Paddle Boats of Afghanistan - Living in Hope

It’s been almost a month since I ran the Marathon of Afghanistan and I have been asked many questions about the race. However, that was only 7 hours out of an eleven day trip and I would like to share with you some of the other incredible aspects of my experience. I arrived in Kabul on the morning of October 28th and, along with three other racers, was met by James Wilcox, founder of the company, Untamed Borders, the group with whom we were traveling. After dropping our bags at a guest house, we headed into the city. Our first stop was a bread shop. Large flat loaves were being baked in an underground oven and then sold from the front window to men and women who were buying armfuls at a time. We were offered tea, a ritual that was repeated throughout our trip. 

We then visited the Shrine of Ali Mazar e Sharif. This is a beautiful, blue-tiled mosque, which sadly had been the site of a terrorist attack, one month previously, killing 14 men, women and children. Despite that, families were visiting the site. As we were leaving, we walked around a wall and there, in an open area was the most amazing playground I have ever seen. All the equipment was hand made. The centre piece was a hand cranked Ferris wheel with four compartments, for four children. A man turned a huge handle to get the contraption spinning and the kids laughed and yelled as they went flying around. Also in the playground was a merry-go-round with tiny planes as seats and there were swings, a slide and a teeter-totter. It made me realise that life goes on no matter what others try and do to stop it. 

Next day, we flew to Bamyan, in Bamyan Province which is populated by the Hazara people. Historically, they are the most persecuted ethnic group in Afghanistan but they are also recognized as the most progressive in the support of girls and women’s rights in education and sport. The town has a population of 60,000 and is cradled between the Hindu Kush and Koh-i-Baba mountain ranges, at 9,000 feet elevation. It’s 240 kms North West of Kabul but the road is deemed too dangerous to travel. 

Driving into town from the airport, we passed a field where a farmer was working with a plough pulled by oxen. He was ploughing around burnt out Russian tanks. There were at least ten tanks and troop carriers all from a previous era in history. The next day we traveled in two vans, 60 kms west to the only National Park in Afghanistan, Band-e-Amir. We spent 3 hours walking along trails which overlooked sheer cliffs into aqua blue lakes. At the end of the walk we arrived at the tourist information centre. Near the building, along the shoreline, were 15 swan-shaped paddle boats. The 10 of us jumped into 2 and 4 seater boats and started cruising around the lake. We joined Afghan families who were out for the day picnicking and having fun. It seems the more things are different, the more things are the same. 

If you want to hear more stories about the trip then come to the Cochrane Public Library on Saturday, December 10th at 1.00pm for a presentation. Afterwards, I will be signing my new book RUNNING TO THE EDGE. 

Everyone welcome.

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