“I’m actually the picture of everything the Taliban don’t want women to be.”

~Nadia Nadim

Predictably, the frequent mentions of Afghanistan in the news died down after the anniversary of the disastrous American troop withdrawal passed. In fact, between the New York Times, CNN, the Napa Valley Register, and NPR, I don’t think I caught a single story on Afghanistan this past week. It’s possible I just missed them, but it seems more likely that, short of anniversaries and events that directly impact the United States, Afghanistan just isn’t going to be a part of our regular conscious narrative any longer. And try though I might, I don’t think I’ve done much to effectively change that.

Searching for news, of course, I found it. Flooding killed at least a hundred people in Afghanistan this week. I read an interview with an Afghan-born footballer named Nadia Nadim who lamented the treatment of women in the country as a “hopeless situation” and, of course, I think she’s right. Nadim, her mother and sisters, fled Afghanistan after the Taliban murdered her father. They went to Denmark, where Nadim took up soccer, which she continues to play professionally both in the United States and Denmark when she’s not performing reconstructive surgery. A remarkable woman, Nadim for me epitomizes my thoughts on Afghanistan: what can people become if you let them? What happens if we remove the obstacles and create space for people to thrive?

Free of a repressive, murderous regime, Nadim became amazing in ways that I think we often consider people to be amazing. But one needn’t be a professional athlete or medical doctor to have a worthwhile life, of course. It feels to me as if Afghanistan today is that barren patch of dry earth in your yard, the one the grass seeds sit atop, never really taking root, until eventually they’re blown away. In fertile soil, people often grow into amazing things, but the soil of Afghanistan today is parched and drained of nutrients, and Nadim’s use of the word “hopeless” feels all to apt. What’s the best-case scenario? That ISIL prevails in removing the Taliban? That seems both unlikely and like a lateral move. All I can think to do is to try to do more to support those Afghans who made it out of the country as they establish new lives for themselves in America, but even that feels impotent at times. Until I have a better idea, however, I’ll continue to run and raise money for the Refugee Empowerment Center here in Omaha.

This past week, I got my miles in, and began training for the back-to-back marathons I plan to run in October, the first in Kansas City on Saturday, October 15, the second in Des Moines on Sunday, the 16th. As the date approaches, I’m not sure what the appeal of the grueling task ever was to me, but I’m committed to it and so I train. Monday I got in six miles, and Tuesday ten and a half. Wednesday, five and a half, and Thursday the same distance but in the form of a tempo run on my treadmill. Friday was twelve, and Saturday twenty-two and a half, for a total of sixty-two miles on the week.

A year ago, the idea of a forty-mile week was a little intimidating, and now I regularly run fifty or sixty without much trouble. I am cognizant of the time it takes, but thankful for the health benefits. I used to weigh around 190lbs and was around 16% body fat, and yesterday I was 168 and 9%. I’m thinner than I’d like to be, the result of giving the time I once used to lift weights over to my running, but on the whole I’m healthier than perhaps I’ve ever been. If I had to have a mid-life crisis, I suppose I’m glad it was marathon training.

The article on Nadia Nadim mentioned that the women’s football team in Afghanistan was evacuated to Australia following the fall of the government, and that they are able to continue to train there. The article about her linked to another, and then another. I read several, then followed her on Twitter, and hope that she may become another means by which I can learn more about Afghanistan. The more I read and hear about women in Afghanistan, the more I fear for their future, and the more helpless I feel about education in that nation. I devote much of my time advocating for education in the United States, and yet compared to Afghanistan our teacher shortages, lack of funding, and constant attacks by extremists seem like pretty minor obstacles to overcome. How to return education to women in Afghanistan I do not know, but what I am growing increasingly certain of is that educating women is the only hope for a bright future in Afghanistan.

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