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Monday, August 19, 2013

Afghan Kids Find Joy In Juggling

Students at the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children participate in the juggling parade on the streets of Kabul before Afghanistan's eighth annual national juggling championship last week. (Sean Carberry/NPR)

Students at the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children participate in the juggling parade on the streets of Kabul before Afghanistan’s eighth annual national juggling championship last week. (Sean Carberry/NPR)

It was an expected sight in the Afghan capital Kabul: 100 boys and girls on foot, stilts and unicycles, juggling tennis balls and batons.

The parade was part of the national juggling championship.

Organizers hope juggling builds self-confidence in children who’ve known only war in their lifetimes.

NPR’s Kabul correspondent Sean Carberry reports.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW.


HOBSON: A military parade made its way through the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan today to mark that country's 94th Independence Day. President Hamid Karzai and Cabinet members attended the event which commemorates the day Afghanistan signed a treaty with Britain making it independent. The celebration was very different, though, than another event that recently clogged the streets of the capital, Afghanistan's National Juggling Championship. Here's NPR's Kabul correspondent Sean Carberry.


SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Morning traffic in Kabul can be punishing enough as it is. But today there's an extra element clogging up the streets. It's a parade of about 100 young boys and girls, dressed in colorful T-shirts and headscarves, and they're juggling. They are juggling tennis balls, batons, things that look like big Whac-A-Mole bats, all walking down the street, some on stilts, some on unicycles. It's not a scene you see in Kabul on a typical day.


CARBERRY: The parade snakes its way around the neighborhood and back into the compound of the Kabul mini-circus. There's what looks like a giant birdcage for acrobatics and a stage and performance area for the circus's 350 students.

ZACH WARREN: Hi. My name is Zach Warren. I'm an American volunteer with the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children. The circus is free. Anyone can come, as long as they maintain a certain GPA in school. And right now we are witnessing the National Afghan Circus Championships, which include primarily juggling competitions.

CARBERRY: This is the eighth annual national juggling competition, and the kids here - seemingly levitating balls and pins - are the winners of preliminary rounds in seven different provinces.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)


CARBERRY: The tournament begins with the A group, the oldest boys in the competition. They're teenagers, many sporting thin mustaches. These kids are good, some juggling five balls for minutes on end. There are points for endurance and tricks, which elicit cheers from the kids.


CARBERRY: Warren, an expert juggler himself, is scoring one of the contestants.

WARREN: That's eight points because he's stopped at two, went with the other two.


WARREN: Oh, that's a shower. That's another - that's 10 points.

ZAHID RAHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Twelve-year-old Zahid Rahman says juggling is teaching him about shapes and angles, which he says will help him be a better engineer when he grows up.

HAWA GUL: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Eleven-year-old Hawa Gul, from Kabul, juggled five balls in the competition today. As much as she likes juggling in the circus, she hopes to be a lawyer someday. Warren says the main goal of the circus is to instill self-confidence in the kids.

WARREN: And if you can establish that, it doesn't matter what field they go into, any field they're going to be more competent in.

MORTAZA: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Sixteen-year-old Mortaza, from Herat, says his father encouraged him to get into the sport. He practices two to three hours a day, and he hopes to be a professional juggler. Mortaza placed third in last year's tournament.

MORTAZA: It's a great opportunity for the youth in Afghanistan, and it's nice that I'm seeing different people from different provinces and from both genders.

FAHIM FAYAZ: Afghanistan is a traditional society, and the girls are here until the age of 14, 15 and 16 years old.

CARBERRY: Fahim Fayaz has worked at the circus for nine years. He says that when the girls reach their middle teens, it becomes unacceptable for them to mix with the boys.

FAYAZ: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: The award ceremony finally begins. Fourteen-year-old Samim, from Kabul, is declared the winner of the A group.


CARBERRY: He's awarded a used bicycle, a girl's model. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

HOBSON: And still to come, President Obama is back in Washington with a lot on his plate, from Egypt to immigration. We'll hear about all of it next. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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