Nilofar Bayat, a wheelchair basketball player, shared her life story with EL TIEMPO.

Nilofar Bayat, a wheelchair basketball player, shared her life story with EL TIEMPO.

The missile hit the house in Nilofar Bayat one afternoon in 1995. She, then a two-year-old baby, she had to be rushed to a hospital in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, due to the effects of the explosion. Her older brother passed away. After just over 360 days of surgeries and clinical efforts, Nilofar was left with a spinal cord injury that would forever reduce her mobility. However, the worst thing, as he began to realize as he grew older, was that when he left the medical center the land of the Afghans was already in the hands of the same men who launched that rocket against their home: the Taliban /b>.

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Between 1996 and 2001, the first period of the fundamentalist regime, Bayat saw how women had to cover their entire bodies with burqas. He also witnessed how no one could leave her house if she was not in the company of a man. The fact that television, movies, music and any form of entertainment were banned would surely impact her as well. But she already knew very well the scope of the Taliban.

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Nilofar Bayat, a wheelchair basketball player, shared her life story with EL TIEMPO.

With the change of government, after the invasion of the United States after the 9/11 attack, the young Afghan attended high school and then went to university. During that kind of democratic respite, Nilofar Bayat became part of the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Kabul. Within the organization, in addition to contributing to the physical rehabilitation center, she led the creation of the Afghanistan Women's Wheelchair Basketball Team. An event with many walls to knock down.

In my first game, most of the men who passed by the court insulted me. Then, many times we had to cancel training due to threats of attacks. Several of the teammates we played with even had to leave the team after getting married because their husbands forbade them to play the sport”, recalls Nilofar.

Despite the difficulties, the Afghan women's basketball team began to compete internationally in 2017. In fact, it came close to qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. However, by 2021, the year of its realization, Afghanistan was facing a new turning point in its history: US troops left the country after 20 years of occupation. And in that movement, the Taliban reinforced their advance to return to government. Last August 15, the date of the capture of Kabul, the abandonment of the democratically elected president and the return to the darkest times.

The Taliban are the worst thing that ever happened to me, my worst memory.

“The Taliban will kill me. There are many videos of me playing basketball. I have been very active for the rights of women and those of women with disabilities. They don't like women like me. I am afraid because until 20 years ago they ruled Afghanistan, and that is when they wounded me and I was left in a wheelchair. The Taliban are the worst thing that has happened to me, my worst memory”, reflected Bayat, at 28 years old. , until reaching the only option left to him: escape.

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Flee to survive

In the midst of the tragedy that took place at the Kabul airport between August 15 and 30, with desperate citizens clinging to the armor of planes trying to leave, mothers handing over their children to foreign soldiers trying to predict a future for them, and militiamen Taliban enjoying the grief of the population, Nilofar's anguish was summed up in the message he sent to Antonio Pampliega, a Spanish journalist he had met some time ago: “My life is over, Antonio. I can't stay here”.

The reporter, experienced in working in conflict zones, shared the text on social networks and aroused the interest of Spanish government officials who offered help to evacuate Bayat and her husband, Ramish Nakzai, captain of the men's basketball team in wheelchair from Afghanistan and who also suffers from a disability due to the war.

The roadmap in extremis established that Nilofar and Ramish should arrive at the airport looking for a Spanish representative. However, at first, none appeared.

“They're sending me to Germany, Antonio”, Bayat managed to say, desperate, to Pampliega, while the Taliban opened fire.

After fearing the worst, enduring hunger for hours, sleeping on the ground and losing their belongings, the pair of captains from Afghanistan was located by the Spanish staff a day later than expected. From now on, with the aim of surviving, the beginning of another path. One impossible to be considered new because it is still anchored to the same reality.

Unbreakable hope

On the sports side, Nilofar is excited because next season, now with permission, she will become the first woman from Afghanistan to join a mixed team. Something unthinkable for the shadow that clouds her country. “It's not easy because I've never played with men, but I'm learning and growing more every day. In addition, it is an opportunity to show that women are just as strong. I have to improve my security a lot because what I have lived takes its toll on me. Also the good thing is that I can play on the same team with my husband.”.

Like in Afghanistan, in Colombia women are great victims of violence.

Even so, its true objective is to continue crying out for the welfare of the Afghans and that of those nations in which women are victims of armed conflicts. Colombia, a country in which the Historical Memory Center establishes that 51,919 women victims of the armed conflict were registered, among its fervent requests: “Last week, in the Parliament of Madrid, I spoke of women as great victims in conflicts. Of course I spoke about Colombia, whose peace I carry in my prayers, because I know that it has had great problems due to territorial control. As in Afghanistan, in Colombia women are great victims of violence. We end up being displaced and are considered weapons and second-class citizens in war scenes.”

Nilofar never tires of repeating that “being a woman in Afghanistan and living with a disability is almost a double curse.”. Even so, he says, he does not intend to give up on his dream, something he knows very well because he has never had it: “To see an Afghanistan in peace” .

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ANDRÉS FELIPE BALAGUERA SARMIENTO
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