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Heading to the Mountains of Afghanistan with Ascend

It is 1230am, Kabul Afganistan and we leave in a few hours - to beat traffic and get to the mountains early. Yesterday we loaded our truck with all our gear and sent it north - 50 donkey loads worth. Today was supposed to be mellow … but of course it didn’t happen. Istead it was jam packed with last-minute logistics and planning.

This included a wild variety of shopping - from visiting the german medical cliniic to get some medicines, to a more boring stop at the fancy ‘normal by western standards’ shop to buy lunch food for the car. The shopping trip culminated in a trip to the Bush market - which I was told should be renamed the Obama market. This is where you can buy all sorts of western goods - mostly stolen. Here we found cliff bars (but had to ignore the long since expired date) and toys for the kids. It was hard to find any toys for the girls - and all I could find were jump ropes. We are hoping to give them out in the Shepards village where we will stay tomorrow night after our first day of walking into the mountains.

Women here are almost universally not allowed to play sports. The film crew interviewed a member of parliament this morning who insisted that if a girl played volleyball, or tennis or any sport she would lose her virginity. As ignorant as this sounds … there is more to the story. You see, all women in Afghanistan are subject to a virginity test by a doctor before marriage. If a women fails this test terrible things will come her way. As many of you know - any young girl who plays sports will likely ‘lose her hymen’. Hence, any young girl who plays sports will likely not pass the ‘virginity’ examination even if she has abided by all laws of chastity. The consequence to such a young girl can be catastrophic. These are not simple views to change.

Later today I was asked to join the film team as they were taken to a secret shelter for abused women. We interviewed 2 - 17 years old girls. They were lovely, kind heated and terrified girls. The shelter was warm and welcoming. A couple dozen women and their young kids smiled curiously at us when we arrived in the hidden courtyard and I tried to communicate with warm and empathetic eyes. The two girls who had agreed to talk to us had horrific stories: One was married at 10, the other at 13. They were married to brothers who sound like they are old men. One was ’traded’ by her father so her father could marry her new husband’s sister. Girls have no say in these matters and each of these girls was becoming the 2nd wive to these old men. They were rich and well respected men who had each killed one of their earlier wives - with impunity.

(Note: These girls are not the girls in the above story ... but also appear to be about 10-13 years of age.)

After too many years of abuse and threats - These 2 girls ran away. They took 17 days to get to Kabul where through a series of good luck and the compassion of kind Muslims they were taken to this safe house. They are terrified - with good reason - that their husbands will kill them if they are found. It was heart breaking. These girls are the age of our girls in girls on ice. Perhaps what made me the most sad was that when asked what the possible best solution was - they had no answer. It was as if they no longer have the ability to dream beyond the simple dream of being able to divorce the tyrant who they were forcibly married to. Tragic.

I recal a quote I recently read by Hemmingway:

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.

I know many of you wonder why I am willing to risk so much to come here - but for me I am inspired by the women of this land who risk so much to just have simple dreams. Like the dream of going to school. Or of a husband who does not abuse them, Or of having the freedom to play a sport like the boys. They are willing to risk their lives for these things, simple things we take for granted. Its as if those who young girls I met today had a sense that there is more to the world and that they deserve more. So they acted in desperation, risked everything, and are hopefully on the way towards a better life. I know that if these two girls are granted their divorce, and protected by the good people of this country, then they will be among the growing number of women who are stronger for having been broken. They will hopefully be part of the solutions this land so desperately needs.

So wish me luck as I leave behind these concrete walls and barbed wire protected compound as we head into the hills.

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