A Canadian man and his German girlfriend are braving the Taliban to take a rickshaw on one of the world’s most dangerous road trips to bring the circus to children in Afghanistan,Iran and Pakistan.
Adnan Khan,41,and his anthropologist sweetheart have embarked on the punishing 8,000-kilometer trip to Istanbul that demands a police escort and hoisting the rickshaw onto trucks to navigate the trickiest stages.
Their purpose is twofold: raise money for a charity that uses circus training to lift the spirits of children in war-torn Afghanistan and to spread those circus skills along the way,to brighten the lives of refugees and orphans.
Adnan left Kabul by road on July 11 as 25-year-old Annika Schmeding flew to Islamabad,after eight months in the Afghan capital,to prepare the way.
Accompanied by Afghan police,Adnan drove to the eastern town of Jalalabad,then onto the border with Pakistan’s tribal belt.
Washington considers the tribal belt the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda,and a den of Taliban and other Islamist militants plotting attacks in Afghanistan and against the West. It has not seen Western tourists in years.
Nor does the three-wheel rickshaw,painted yellow,green and white with a jazzy “Rickshaw Circus” on the side,and sporting a brass clown horn,go unnoticed in terrain synonymous with kidnapping,suicide bombings and ambushes.
“I finally got the rickshaw to the Pakistani side. It took hours. It was quite funny. A policeman told me ‘I haven’t seen a carnet de passage (the document needed for tourists to cross the border) in years,'” Adnan told AFP by telephone on Monday.
His next task was speeding the rickshaw to Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar,where Osama bin Laden kept a house during the 1980s war against Soviet troops in Afghanistan,and onto the capital Islamabad.
“The local tribal police force is going to have a guard travel with me,” he said,adding that he would be rushing to make Tuesday’s first show.
The trip has been months in the planning. Khan and Schmeding expect to spend two months winding their way through Pakistan,Iran and Turkey averaging 300 kilometers a day in six hours in temperatures that can reach 50 degrees Celsius.
The couple are determined to raise as much money as possible for the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children (MMCC),which was recently forced to close a school in the western city of Herat and sack staff because of a shortage of funds.