Afghan women power-lifters flex their muscles

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In this Photo taken on March 4, 2018, Afghanistan national powerlifting team member Rasheda Parhiz (L), 40, poses for a picture with her trophies and medals at her home in Kabul.(AFP)
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In this Photo taken on March 4, 2018, Afghanistan national powerlifting team member Rasheda Parhiz, 40, assist teammate Sadya Ayubi on a bench press exercise during a training session at a women's gym at Ghazi stadium in Kabul. (AFP)
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In this Photo taken on March 4, 2018, Afghanistan national powerlifting team member Rasheda Parhiz, 40, reacts during a deadlift exercise as teammate Sadya Ayubi looks on during a training session at a women's gym at Ghazi stadium in Kabul. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2018
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Afghan women power-lifters flex their muscles

KABUL: Inside the Afghanistan Powerlifting Federation’s cramped gym, Rasheda Parhiz lies on a bench wearing a tunic over sweatpants and holding a 70-kilogram (150-pound) weighted bar above her scarf-covered head.
The 40-year-old began powerlifting several years ago to help lose weight — she used to weigh 120kg and hid her ample frame under a burqa.
Now a fitter 82kg, Parhiz’s ability to lift 100kg has brought the mother of three trophies and medals in local and regional competitions, which she keeps in a plastic shopping bag in her mud-brick home.
“We are too lazy to dust them,” says her 22-year-old daughter Lema, explaining why they are not displayed in the living room window next to tea sets and thermos.
“Who’s interested?” Parhiz asks modestly.
Several times a week Afghanistan’s female powerlifting team squeezes into a small carpeted room in Kabul where they strip off their body-covering abayas and pump iron.
Lifting weights heavier than themselves, the women are also flexing their muscles in a deeply conservative and patriarchal country where sport has long been the domain of men.
The Afghan Olympic Committee started the federation seven years ago but it has struggled to attract women, who are often discouraged from playing sport on the grounds of protecting their virtue.
Powerlifting is a branch of weightlifting using the squat, bench press and deadlift techniques but without any moves which lift the weight vertically overhead.
There are 20 women on the national team compared with more than 100 in the men’s squad, which also receives more official support, says Totakhail Shahpor, who has been the women’s coach for the past three years after his predecessor absconded during a competition in Canada.
The 52-year-old former soldier considers it his duty to encourage and protect his female charges.
“I treat them like my daughters,” Shahpor says. “If I imposed discipline like the army, the next day I would have no one left.”

Motivated

To keep them motivated Shahpor pushes the women to take part in competitions even though each of them only receive 1,000 afghanis (less than $15) a month — barely enough to cover transport costs.
“Look at their shirts and trousers, they do not even have shoes,” he says pointing to Sadia Ahmadi’s grey and yellow tracksuit that has a large patch on the thigh.
Ahmadi, 25, is the most successful member of the women’s team, winning four gold medals at competitions in Uzbekistan, India and Kazakhstan, Shahpor says proudly.
Despite the taboos around female sport, the women claim they enjoy the backing, even encouragement, of their fathers or husbands to do powerlifting.
“My husband is happy... he is proud of me and pushing me,” says Parhiz.
But there are limits to his support, and he would probably balk if powerliftin ever became an Olympic sport.
Lema says her father does not approve of his daughters attending public gyms, because sporty girls are considered “bad.”
“He wouldn’t like to see me at the Olympics,” Parhiz says.


Christo’s giant ‘mastaba’ unveiled in London — next stop Abu Dhabi

Artist Christo stands in front of his work The London Mastaba, on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, on Monday. Reuters
Updated 18 June 2018
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Christo’s giant ‘mastaba’ unveiled in London — next stop Abu Dhabi

  • The London Mastaba is Christo’s first major outdoor public work in the UK, but in many ways it is a trial run for what many believe he intends as his legacy: A permanent mastaba constructed in the desert in the UAE
  • That structure will stand 150 meters tall and be made of 410,000 barrels painted in ten different colors

LONDON: It stands 20 meters high, weighs 600 tons and needs 32 anchors to stop it floating away.
Amid much fanfare and an unseasonably chilly wind, the London Mastaba by the renowned artist Christo was launched on Monday on the Serpentine lake in London’s Hyde Park.
The Mastaba is a ziggurat, a sort of pyramid with two sloping and two vertical sides, and the top sliced off, made of 7,506 barrels painted red, blue and mauve and all piled up on a polyethylene platform.
The word mastaba simply means “bench” in Arabic. The shape dates back to at least 6,000, when such benches first began appearing outside dwellings in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq).
As Christo cheerfully admits, like all of his art — the silvery wrapping around the Reichstag in Berlin, the 7,503 gates hung with saffron-colored fabric in New York’s Central Park — it has no function but to look beautiful and excite the onlooker, at least for a while. The London Mastaba will remain on display until Sept. 23.
The Bulgarian-born artist arrived in fitting manner by boat to be paraded before an assembled throng of admirers, art world top brass and more than 200 members of the international media.
The London Mastaba is Christo’s first major outdoor public work in the UK, but in many ways it is a trial run for what many believe he intends as his legacy: A permanent mastaba constructed in the desert in the UAE.
That structure will stand 150 meters tall and be made of 410,000 barrels painted in ten different colors. Even in model size — one built to scale is on display in the Serpentine Gallery as part of the accompanying Christo exhibition — it looks staggeringly colossal, with minuscule model people around it.
Christo is used to his projects progressing slowly. He is also used to not always getting what he wants.
“In 50 years I have completed 23 projects and failed to get permission for 47,” he said.
It took nearly 25 years to get permission to wrap the Reichstag in 1995. But negotiations for the desert mastaba have already been going on since 1977.
Asked if there had been any progress, he said, “I can’t tell you. There are two stages in any project — the software period and the hardware period. We are in the software period. This is the longest time we have spent, but I am a stubborn man. It is an unstoppable urge within me. It energises me.”
The London mastaba cost about £2 million ($2.6 million). As with all his art, Christo paid the costs himself, raising the money by selling preparatory sketches and collages, which are highly sought-after and therefore considered a good investment. He accepts no commissions for his work and seeks no sponsorship.
However, the desert mastaba is likely to cost about $500 million at a conservative estimate, a sum certainly beyond even Christo’s fundraising means.
“It’s not just about building the mastaba. The problem is that there is no infrastructure at the site where he wants to build it, which is about a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi,” explained Scott Hodes, Christo’s lawyer for 55 years. “You would have to build a road, accommodation for the construction workers and facilities for visitors and tourists. It’s a huge undertaking even for a wealthy country like the UAE.”
Could Christo be persuaded to relocate his structure to somewhere that is at least partly equipped already? “No. It’s in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere but that’s where he wants it,” said Hodes.
There have been many meetings and discussions over the years with the ruling family, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Christo’s nephew, Vladimir Javacheff, who works with him on all his projects, said, “We keep going. I’m there (in the UAE) at least four times a year.”
Christo celebrated his 83rd birthday on June 13. Though still sprightly, there is no denying that time for him to realize his mastaba-in-the-desert dream is not limitless.
But apparently he does not consider his presence to be essential to the project. His nephew explained it will go ahead with or without Christo.
“Even if he passes away, the project will be fulfilled,” said Javacheff. “He doesn’t need to be there.” But, he added hastily: “Christo is not going anywhere. He is indestructible.”