Herat, Afghanistan – From the Qalai Iktaryuddin – which for 2,000 years housed various emperors, including Alexander the Great, to the tomb of Queen Goharshad – who presided over an empire stretching from the Tigris to the Chinese borderlands, the western city of Herat has long been considered one of the centres of Afghan history and culture.
With their flips, vaults and spins, four young men in Herat hope to continue the city’s legacy as a vanguard in Afghan culture by introducing the discipline of Parkour to Afghanistan.
Alireza Bayat, Raziq Dostyar, Habib Mohammadi and Hossin Amiri first discovered the sport online three years ago. They were transfixed by videos of traceurs effortlessly using their agile bodies to transform walls, ramps and stairways from mundane artefacts of daily urban life into obstacle courses.
Since then, under the tutelage of Dostyar, the boys have taken the discipline from the computer screen to the streets of Herat.
“Parkour is all about finding creative ways to surmount everyday obstacles,” Bayat told Al Jazeera of what appealed to him about the discipline.
Though skateboarding, graffiti, hip-hop and rock music have all made inroads in various Afghan cities, the Herat Parkour and Freerunning Team is the only squad of its kind in the country.
Still, Bayat says the four have only ever received praise from the wowed onlookers when the squad takes over the streets of Herat on Friday afternoons.
The criticisms they have received are few and far between. When they approached the Herat Olympic Committee for assistance, Dostyar said the squad was told “Parkour is symbolic, not a sport”. For their parents, the traceurs said the threat of physical injury has led them to ban all talk of Parkour around them.
Despite the setbacks, the four twenty-something Heratis continue on their endeavour in hopes of serving as pioneers of a new cultural endeavor in Afghanistan.
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