Afghans have nothing, yet everything

Two women won't medal, but just their presence represents huge victory

Athens 2004

August 18, 2004|By Dave Hyde | Dave Hyde,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

ATHENS - Her first race came at a stadium at which people had been executed during the previous decade. They were used as halftime entertainment at soccer games, being strung up from both goals, left there until their bodies went limp, then cut down and carted away as the teams returned to play the second half.

"I'm glad I never saw it," Afghanistan sprinter Robina Muqimyar said.

She rarely left her house to see anything for a decade. That was a basic tenet under fundamentalist Taliban rule. No walks to school, because girls weren't allowed in school. No walks to jobs, because women weren't allowed to work.

She took few walks anywhere for a decade, really, because if a female walked too fast or too slow, if her shoes squeaked or her socks peeked from under the black robe - if, in fact, she drew public notice in any manner at all - she might be beaten with a cable on the street by the Taliban's religious police.

"They were everywhere," she said.

The Olympics, boiled to their essence, are about hope. Hope that the world's people notice we're all more alike than different. And perhaps no one represents this hope for a shared future at these Games more than the first two female Olympians in the history of Afghanistan.

Muqimyar, 17, is a 100-meter runner who trained in sandals on broken concrete in Kabul. Friba Razayee, 18, competes in judo despite having no real mats to work on at home and no credentialed coach to work with. But this isn't a story about what they don't have. It's about what they now do have.

"Women were female prisoners," Muqimyar said. "We still would be, too. Not just me. All of us. We couldn't do anything. Now look at us. Now we have a chance to do what we want."

It wasn't just the Taliban that made Afghanistan medieval for nearly 10 years. It was the warlord mujahadeen before that. It was the fight against the Soviets before that. It was nearly two decades of war and oppression that, until the United States-led coalition threw out the Taliban, plunged a country into decay and despair.

Muqimyar ran in heeled sandals and a scarf when she first competed 11 months ago. She has since cut her 100-meter time from 17 seconds to around 13. Good improvement, but not the kind that will come close to winning a medal. Razayee, too, figures to get clobbered in judo competition today. But that's fine.

"Just attending these Olympic Games is our gold medal," Razayee said.

"If we compare ourselves to the other athletes of the world, we have nothing," Muqimyar said. "We don't have equipment or facilities. It's hard to even find good shoes to run in. But compared to where we were a year ago, we have everything."

She opened her arms wide, as if taking in something we all should see and hear.

"We have a chance in life now," she said.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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