Zach Warren Unicycling in Afghanistan

Zach’s internet connection is a bit sketchy, but he’s asked me to post on his behalf on RSU. I know most of you would be interested in what he’s up to :sunglasses:

Salaam aleykum from Bamyan, Afghanistan,

Attachments: pictures from local bazaar, the circus juggling room, and
nighttime trash burning (trash is pitched into the streets), and a
video from my arrival greeting of a traditional dance.

I wake up to the sound of fists banging on my door at 8:30 am.
"Zachee, zachee."  Several circus kids are waiting for me to watch
them juggle.  They want me to teach them a new trick.  My eyes feel
bruised by the light after having stayed up until midnight watching an
Iranian movie about love and destiny with Fahim, age 19, the circus
tai qwon do instructor, and Shafi, age 24, the guard at the circus

I throw on a shalwar, traditional Afghan clothing, and stumble into
the hallway.  "Jayet saist?" Hamid asks me after shaking my hand and
kissing me on the cheek.  Hamid is another circus teacher.  "Saist," I
say, half wondering if I just mistakenly said "Sa'id," which refers to
the group of people who descended from the prophet Muhammed.  I
exchange a few formalities with the children, as customary.
"Chatoresti?  Khobi?  Khob omed warum. Sahated khob ast?  Qowi?"  [How
are you? Are you good?  I hope so. How is your health? Strong?]

In a nearby room, I can hear girls practicing a traditional Afghan
anthem, singing (in Dari), "Afghanistan is the heart of Asia…" to the
rhythm of tabla drums and a harmonium.  Outside, next to the garden,
rows of children (boys and girls) are practicing acrobatics and
martial arts. The house is filled with laughter, bright colors, and
hope.  A stark contrast to the dusty streets outside the circus
compound, where these refugee children who fled Kabul during the war
see barbed wire, military guards, collapsed buildings and the
occasional shell of a bombed out car or truck.

It's not everyday that I get to run away and join the circus in
Afghanistan.  I arrived safely at the Afghan Mini Circus for Children
(MMCC) on July 2, and am in very hospitable and kind hands. My job is
to train the kids and adult teachers in unicycling and juggling.  If
you ask any kid in the Kartese province about the "mobile circus,"
you'll quickly learn that it's a mystical, magical place in the
child's eye.  In the life of a child refugee (many families fled to
places like India and Pakistan and now are returning), it's an ivory
tower of hope rising from the rubble, a Garden of Eden for the
developing imagination.  Inside the plaster walls of the circus
compound, you find a safe space to play and to dream and to have
agency.  These are instrumental additions to international relief such
as blankets from UNESCO, or the biscuits from Feed the Children.  I
can't think of a better method of preventing the hostility and
desperation that so often motivates acts of terrorism than through
interventions like this.  Certainly, Mullah Omar of the Taliban, or
Gulbudin Hecmatyar, never had this opportunity.  They choose violence
through dogmatism and desperation, not dreaming.

How does this circus work in Afghan culture? Let me give an example.
Perhaps you have heard of the national Afghan sport, buskashi.  It's a
dangerous and sometimes lethal game, where grown men are trampled to
death annually. Buzkashi players ride on horseback and use long sticks
to move the carcass of a goat toward different goals.  It's a national
pride.  In one of the MMCC's recent numoishan (performances) the
circus kids turned buskashi into a skit. They played using unicycles
instead of horses, and a little boy pretended to be the goat carcass
as he ran around the stage.  The audiences loved it.

This is serious play.  The MMCC is a circus by kids, for kids, quickly
transitioning to all-Afghan team of adult trainers and managers.  My
heart is deeply moved by everything I have seen since arriving.

My only regret is that I didn't bring more money and circus supplies
to give (and mini-radios).  The impact of such resources is immediate
and profound.  So far, with your help, we have raised $3700 for these
kids.  That leaves $6,300 to reach the goal of $10,000.

I just arrived with the other circus teachers after an 8 hour bumpy
ride in a minivan along a road you'd have to see to believe.  Along
the way, we stopped to take a dip in a couple streams, shared fresh
mangos and watermelon, and looked at the temple of Zoroaster, a castle
built into the mountainside (Afghanistan was once a predominantly
Zoroastrian country, then Buddhist, then Islamic). Now I've found a
place that has internet (which is rather unbelievable, but there are
nearly 50 NGOs here, so they bring the business), but am off for
dinner.  If you can manage the occasional stomach problems Afghan
foods cause, it's wonderful ("ajeebu harib"). Lots of potatoes,
eggplant, and onions with naan. Tomorrow we perform in front of the
Buddha statues that were demolished by the Taliban. This area is a
center for Hazaras, one of the minority ethnic groups that has long
had tensions with the Taliban.

A few personal notes to in-kind donors (I don't get to the internet
very often, so here's my chance):

Steve of Cirque du Soleil:  every piece of juggling equipment you made
is being used daily.  The kids love it.  The only trouble is that they
sometimes fight to use it.  "Nobut ba nobut," we have to tell them,
which means "Take turns."

John and Amy of  the basic unicycle you donated is the
best unicycle the kids have, and again they quarrel to practice on it.

John of the kids circus in Ottowa:  We look forward to picking up your
package of circus supplies when it arrives. Your military contact can
call Chris' cell: 079374515

Thanks for reading. 



Some pics

picture 047.jpg

that’s really cool. Any chance for more pics.?

Thank you for the update on Zach,

Its great to see that he’s doing well and making such a difference in Afghanistan.


Look at all those kids! that is awesome.

This is great stuff…

Thanks for posting Ken - sounds like an incredible time he’s having.


Zachs latest update.
Don’t forget to check out his website:

Salaam from Karte Seh, Kabul,

I hope this finds you safe and in good spirits. I have a new telephone
number and mailing address in the U.S., noted at the bottom of this

Nearly one month ago, what little I knew of Afghanistan I knew by
pictures and words, maybe a couple good books, like "Kite Runner" or
"An Unexpected Light," and sound bites from the Boston Globe or
Washington Post.  Even if I knew better, I still had in my mind images
of stoic-faced men with turbans and rocket launchers hiding in caves.

The news wasn't pretty specific.  "17 suspected dead in helicopter
crash...explosion in internet cafe kills several foreign NGO
workers...U.S. forces growing closer to Osama... Concerns for
escalated violence as Parliamentary elections approach...Hamid Karzai
to root out "foreign spies" in government..."

What it didn't, and doesn't, convey about Afghanistan is what I
consider so far to be at the heart of my experiences here: the
laughter, tenderness, hospitality, and religious and ethnic diversity
in daily life.  I hope I can share some of that with you, to round out
the news reports.

A week ago I found myself bouncing around in a van with a cracked
winshield on the famous road between Kabul and Herat with seven
married Afghan men for ten hours at a time.  We passed through the
former Kush empire, through lands once under Greek rule by Alexander
the Great, past the mysterious caves and mountain-castle of Zoroaster,
through herds of
goats and dozens of streams, past upside-down tanks and empty roadside
rocket shells, and finally through the remains of the Bamyan bazaar, a
site where Buddhists and spiritual seekers have lived, studied, and
gathered from all around the world since the 5th century (AD).  This
was the site of the famous Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban
because they were considered images/false idols.

Along the way, Hamid, Du'ad, Nadir, Asad, Jamil, and Sher Khan have
more than a dozen laughing fits.  I'd never seen a group of Afghan men
laughing playfully until this trip, even though it happens all the
time here.  They sing to the radio and clap until my ears echo with
Indi and Afghan pop music. We stop along the way and squat by a river,
eating fresh mangoes and watermelons, then for daily prayers.  They
tease me like a close friend and we break bread together at every
meal, eating naan flat bread for breakfast, then potatoes, rice, oils,
and naan for lunch and dinner.

In Bamyan, we gave six performances in different schools, for both boys and
girls.  One of the MMCC girls even gave a juggling performance at a
girls school.  (Imagine the impact on a young girl's sense of self
confidence and self agency from juggling three clubs in front of
hundreds of her peers, meeting great applause and laughter!)

Attached are a few pictures from the Bamyan performances, including
one where you can see the smaller Buddha in the background (or the
great rock inset where it used to stand over 100 feet tall.  It is
said to have had a gold plated face that reflected light onto the town
of Bamyan in the morning sunlight).  We also performed beside the
green waterfalls of Banda-amir, and at schools in Shaidon and Didir.

These performances were entertaining for the audiences, but they
always deliver important messages in powerful ways.  Skits include,
for instance, a piece on conflict resolution that uses a frog, a
horse, and a bear, where the frog and the horse can't get along, and
the bear enters as the peace-maker.  Since it would be inappropriate
for the MMCC performers to speak about conflicts between Afghan ethic
groups directly, the metaphorical use of animals conveys the same
message indirectly. Other skits teach about hygeine, malaria
prevention, and safety measures to avoid land mines.  In a region
where culture and custom is often said to trump laws and rules, the
use of persuasion through circus arts is an especially pragmatic
method of promoting social change. Simply handing out brochures,
posting posters, or talking to local elders seems to change very few
minds alone.

Now I'm back in Kabul, training a group of Afghan kids for an upcoming
tour of Germany and Denmark, beginning August 3rd. For most of them,
this is the second time out of the country.  The first time was when
they fled to Pakistan or India during the Taliban regime.  Nearly all
of the MMCC kids are refugees, and the population of Kabul continues
to soar as Afghan families return to their native lands (some ethnic
groups have waited generations for this chance).

In other interesting and unusual news -- I received a call from the
White House in May, to my surprise. They wanted a performance in June,
but because I was out of the country, my friend Ben Sota
( went in my place. Now he tells a good tale of
having a food fight with a few Senator's children, at least until
their parents intervened...  I'll likely perform there over Christmas
instead, if exams allow it.

Also, the website has been updated, and so has
the MMCC's website: .  If you're curious, I invite
you to check them out, and of course feedback is always welcome.  My
mailing address and phone number in the U.S. has also changed. The new
information is posted below.

Hodahafez, blessings, and care,

Another pic

training for europe.jpg

I gotta say, I’m usually not very interested in whatever world conflict is going on and who needs help and why, but this actually really interests me. Going somewhere new, and teaching some kids to just have fun sounds like an awesome use of time.

This is amazing, and thanks for sharing :slight_smile:

wow. that is really amazing story Zach.
the Kite-Runner is one of my favorit books,
i just finished it the other day. i admire you so much for going over there.
i could never go to Afghanistan.
Yoni from

I really enjoyed Kite Runner too. Just curious - why do you think you can’t go to Afghanistan? I’ve always wanted to go since reading a couple of old climbing books about wild adventures there in the 50’s. Someday I’ll be there (I hope with Uni) - you can do it too.

I now want to take a gap year and go and help teach there, do you know of a good person to contact to find out more information,

wow, our club can’t even get a crowd that big :astonished: some are looking at it liike, hmm should i be watching this nutcase