Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tareq Azim, by Alexandra Lucas Coelho

In her "Afghan Notebook", Alexandra Lucas Coelho reports several meetings with Tareq Azim, during her one month trip to Afghanistan, between 31st May and 29th June, 2008.
"Tareq is one of those Afghan entrepreneurs who grew up in America and returned after the fall of the Taliban. He has several projects. One of them is a female boxing team in Kabul. Another one is a girl’s school in Jalalabad, where his family has pashtun scrolls."
His maternal grandfather, Shaw Wali Khan, was the first jets commander in Afghanistan and the right hand of King Zahir Shah. His paternal grandfather, Shawl Pacha, stood out as a great tribal leader in Nuristan (northeastern). The family provenance shapes Tareq’s personality and contributes to a determined person. “Tareq looks forward as a professional fighter. This nose is not only inheritance, it is of punches in the ring. This man is a boxer and he came to win.”

Tareq says to Alexandra:
"I came very aggressively in 2004. The land here means honor and my family was being disrespected. I am a fighter, I came to set things right. Fifty men were receiving me at the airport. Then, while coming to town, I saw how people lived. God made me hungry for Afghanistan. I grew up in the legacy of my grandparents, but I had the opportunity to travel the world, having education, and there was a time when I thought: I will make a revolution in the world through sports. Boys and girls. My bet is the kids under 17, the only people with a pure heart. First, a soccer program to boys and girls. Then, a federation of women boxers. My mother said: ‘They will kill you. Afghanistan is not ready for this. This warlord will kill you’. But I put my afghan clothes, visited him, sat down on the floor and ate with him: ‘Isn’t it time to show the world who we are? Everyone is trying to rebuild the country, but we must use the future, which is the kids'."
Alexandra watches Tareq, “a male body in its heyday, with gleaming eyes and an eagle profile. He could come on his horse razing everything as a Genghis Khan." And she notes that he “has many alternative ideas for Afghanistan”, built between his wanderings among the U.S., where he studied Environmental Sciences, and Afghanistan, the country of his heart. Tareq tells her:
"I'm trying to build the local economy of Afghanistan through its industry, its history, its agriculture. Otherwise, we will be slaves of the world."
“His business is agribusiness”, explains Alexandra, “‘quality agricultural products, strawberries, citrus fruits, pomegranates, 34 species’. He bets ‘in the local market, and then in Pakistan and India’. He has ‘new concepts to clean the products, give them another life in the shelf. For example, ‘the strawberries that come from the Kunar province’, and before packing them and give them a price, they have to be cleaned, because ‘80 percent of the air has human faeces, due to the sewer system’. More than clean, ‘it is necessary to purify’.”

In America, Tareq could have it all, parties, sex, cute girls. “But I'm busy saving Afghanistan. And that's what the old tribesmen see: ‘He's here’.” Alexandra notes that Tareq does not travel with armed escorts, “as everyone who can does”.

In the short term, this young Afghan wants to raise money for the Olympics. However, he already feels he has “won a medal” in the daily training sessions with the girls, at the Kabul stadium. The youngest is 12 years old, the oldest 17.
"We laugh and laugh and laugh. We joke and joke and joke. We fight and fight and fight. Then I ask them what they want to do and they say: ‘I want to be an orthopedic surgeon’. Or: ‘I want to be a jet pilot’. They developed self esteem.”
Tareq teaches his students the boxing techniques and gives them tips on how to react when, as Alexandra, journalists come in the gym.
“When you are asked ‘What are you? Tajiks, Pashtuns?’, answer: ‘No. Afghan.’ When you are asked ‘What do you need?’, reply: ‘Thank you, we have everything we need, come and see our boxing class.”

Tinta da China, 2009

Photos of the travel diary of Alexandra Lucas Coelho in Afghanistan
(Tareq Azim pictured on June 4th, 9th and 13)

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