From rural Afghanistan to Soil Searching in the USA
My journey to chai was straight forward. It’s what I grew up drinking, pairing it with naan, every morning for breakfast. My journey to cycling, however, was a bit unusual. I first learned to pedal, secretly from my parents, while standing in line to buy fresh naan at a bakery. I was six-years-old then, and we lived as refugees in Pakistan having fled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In exile, my parents poured everything in their limited power to make sure that my brothers and I could get quality education. Anything that distracted us from school was a grave disregard to their sacrifices. Bicycles included.
My freedom to ride came in 2011 when I left Afghanistan for the USA to attend an international boarding school in New Mexico. There, I opted to ride the school’s single-speed cruiser bikes to town instead of taking the bus despite always getting chased by angry dogs. Then in 2014, a chance encounter with mountain biking in Taos, New Mexico changed the course of my life (from wannabe politician to a believer in bikes). On my first ever mountain bike ride, I realized two things:
- I have never experienced more fun and focus in my life, and
- If this is mountain biking, why is it here and not in Afghanistan where the real mountains are?
And so I headed to Vermont to begin my undergraduate studies at Middlebury College exactly with those two things in mind. I became obsessed with taking mountain biking, a sport that then hardly existed in Afghanistan, back home with me. That drive led me to pursue an Olympic dream in cross country (XC) mountain biking, despite being fully aware that it may be a very far-fetched dream. But the opportunity to train without the security threats present back home coupled with a vibrant US racing scene demanded that I give it a try. If anything, I would learn a lot and dispel that knowledge to the next generation of cyclists in Afghanistan. From 2016 to 2020, I trained and raced, from the beginner to elite circuits, in a bid to become the first Afghan to race the Olympics in mountain biking.
But that was not all. During that time, I started Mountain Bike Afghanistan (now a nonprofit in the United States) with the mission to empower young Afghans with the joy of riding and competing on mountain bikes as well as connecting people across borders and cultures over their shared love of cycling. In 2018, we launched the first ever mountain bike race in Afghanistan, the Hindukush MTB Challenge. In three years, the annual Hindukush MTB Challenge has sparked nation-wide interest for the sport.
After five years of dedicating my life to pursue a spot in the Olympics, I have decided to draw the curtains on that noble dream. It is a difficult decision to make, but as Mountain Bike Afghanistan have grown, I have increasingly realized that I am more effective as an advocate and ambassador of cycling than a racer. Going forward, I am even more excited to pull all of my energy and resources to grow the momentum mountain biking is picking up in Afghanistan.
Watch my brief talk below about employing bicycles for peace building in Afghanistan at the 2020 Verde Valley Ideas Festival:
Stay tuned as I make strides towards my vision to transform Afghanistan to a cycling nation, and explore the world on two wheels. From everyday short rides to epic adventures, I am excited to live by Mountain Bike Afghanistan’s mission: to empower and connect people via the bicycle.
The burgeoning writer in me will pay attention to plenty of unique stories along the way. From Afghanistan to living as a refugee in Iran and Pakistan to the United States, it’s already been quite the journey; of interesting places, challenges, and running into inspiring people. I am eager for the adventures and stories that lie ahead, unlocked by the simple acts of pedaling and sitting down for a cup of chai.
Thank you for following along.