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Afghan cyclist opening minds in Arkansas, and in home nation

by Tracy Neal | October 22, 2021 at 6:59 a.m.
Afsana Nawrozi (left), an 18-year-old cyclist who is a member of the Afghan women's national team, speaks Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, at Bike Rack Brewing Company in Bentonville. Nawrozi is in Northwest Arkansas as the first of nearly 30 riders being evacuated to the U.S. after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. Visit nwaonline.com/211022Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

BENTONVILLE -- Afsana Nawrozi loves cycling, but for her it wasn't seen simply as a childhood joy.

Nawrozi, an 18-year-old cyclist and member of the Afghan women's national team, was one of the speakers Thursday during a panel discussion at Bike Rack Brewing Co.

Women of OZ NWA, an Arkansas-based nonprofit bike club, hosted the event.

Nawrozi talked about her childhood in Afghanistan and the difficulty she had with simply wanting to ride a bicycle, an activity some in the country considered inappropriate for girls.

She first rode a bicycle -- a pink one-- at 7 years old. There were times she dressed as a boy just to ride bicycles. She borrowed a bicycle from a friend when she did not have one.

She was hit by a car three times. Once it was intentional and one of her collarbones was shattered, but she continued to ride, she said.

Nawrozi wants other girls to enjoy cycling, but that fun no longer exists since the Taliban recently took control of the country again.

She was in Pakistan awaiting a student visa to come to the United States when the Taliban took over.

Nawrozi is in America on that student visa, which Mountain Bike Afghanistan helped her acquire. She will be heading to school in Sedona, Ariz., on Saturday.

One of her sisters is a part of the Afghan girls' national soccer team, which was granted asylum by Portugal after the Taliban banned women from playing sports. Her father and another sibling still live in Afghanistan, according to a news release in advance of Thursday's panel discussion.

Farid Noori, executive director of Mountain Bike Afghanistan, said Nawrozi can help change minds in Afghanistan.

"The moment you have someone like Afsana riding through a busy street in Kabul when people are throwing bottles at her and some people are encouraging her set into motion those difficult conversations," he said. "Those are difficult conversations about what is the type of society that we want to be, and I think that's what the bike can achieve."

Noori said they will continue to use the bike for the mission of continuing to spread the message of women's empowerment and women's rights. He said all Afghans care about those rights except the people currently in power in the country.

Noori heard about Nawrozi getting hurt when she was hit by the car. Her bicycle was destroyed, and he helped get her another one.

Khalid Ahmadzai, director of economic advancement with Canopy NWA, was another panelist Thursday. Canopy NWA works to ensure refugees are welcomed and equipped with all they need to build new lives and thrive, according to its website.

Ahmadzai grew up in Afghanistan, and biking was not only important to his education, but helped him earn money when he was a child. He rode his bicycle to learn English.

"My bike was really the essential tool in helping me move forward," he said.

Ahmadzai remembered when growing a beard was the law in the country and the penalty for cutting off a beard was prison. Listening to music could also result in a prison sentence, he said.

"I was a teenage rebellious guy, and I went to prison four times," he said. "The little beard I had I was shaving, and the hairstyle I had was a problem."

Women were never seen riding bicycles, Ahmadzai said.

There were hopeful times when the United States military entered the country after Sept. 11, 2001, he said. It was a novel thing to see women riding bicycles in Afghanistan, but unfortunately the country is back in the same place 20 years later with the Taliban again in control, he said.

Noori wants to continue to use bicycling to bring attention to Afghanistan. He doesn't want the country to be forgotten.

Noori said he fell in love with mountain biking when he came to the United States. He started Mountain Bike Afghanistan as a way to not only empower young people in Afghanistan, but also to bring attention to the mountains in the world.

The organization took up a new task when the Taliban returned to power. Mountain Bike Afghanistan is working on the evacuation of 28 mountain bikers, primarily women, with the goal of bringing them to Northwest Arkansas, he said.

Noori said he realizes it will be a marathon and not a short process to get them to the United States.

Afsana Nawrozi (left), an 18-year-old bicyclist who’s a member of the Afghan women’s national team, speaks Thursday alongside Farid Noori, executive director of Mountain Bike Afghanistan, at Bike Rack Brewing Co. in Bentonville. Nawrozi is among nearly 30 riders being evacuated to the U.S. since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Afsana Nawrozi (left), an 18-year-old bicyclist who’s a member of the Afghan women’s national team, speaks Thursday alongside Farid Noori, executive director of Mountain Bike Afghanistan, at Bike Rack Brewing Co. in Bentonville. Nawrozi is among nearly 30 riders being evacuated to the U.S. since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Farid Noori, executive director of Mountain Bike Afghanistan, speaks Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, at Bike Rack Brewing Company in Bentonville. Noori is working to evacuate a group of nearly 30 Afghan mountain bikers, primarily women, to Northwest Arkansas. Visit nwaonline.com/211022Daily/ for today's photo gallery.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Farid Noori, executive director of Mountain Bike Afghanistan, speaks Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, at Bike Rack Brewing Company in Bentonville. Noori is working to evacuate a group of nearly 30 Afghan mountain bikers, primarily women, to Northwest Arkansas. Visit nwaonline.com/211022Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
A large group listens Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, during a panel discussion at Bike Rack Brewing Company in Bentonville. Visit nwaonline.com/211022Daily/ for today's photo gallery.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
A large group listens Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, during a panel discussion at Bike Rack Brewing Company in Bentonville. Visit nwaonline.com/211022Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

Print Headline: Afghan cyclist opening minds in state, and in home nation

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