2 Oct 2012

The loneliness of a long distance Afghan powerlifter…

Fahim Rahimi got to fly his war-torn nation’s flag at the Paralympics, but what happened next? Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman finds out.

On the opening night of the Paralympics, we broadcast a short film (below) about Mohammed Fahim Rahimi, a taxi driver from Kabul who lifts weights and happens to be Afghanistan‘s only Paralympian athlete, writes Jonathan Rugman.

Fahim is in his early 30s and married with two children, but he cut a rather sad figure when I met him near the Olympic Park as the Games were about to begin. It wasn’t his disability which seemed to get him down. He had half his leg blown off by a land mine when he was just a 12-year-old boy stepping out to buy groceries, but there are some two million disabled people in Afghanistan and such injuries are not uncommon. And anyway, Fahim has been driving a cab with a prosthetic leg in Kabul for years.

I think what had got to him in London was the city’s opulence, combined with his own loneliness. He had been in London a week, but could barely afford to go out. I asked him what he had bought since he arrived, and all he could think of were some things for his shaving kit.

The Westfield shopping centre, where we filmed him, seemed ridiculously glitzy compared with life back home in Kabul, where he lived on top of a hill strewn with rocks and so steep that it took him an hour to climb it during the snows of an Afghan winter.

He told me he was “completely alone” during breakfast in the Olympic village, that he missed his little daughter most of all, and that although his board and lodging in London were free, he was losing up to twenty dollars a day in cab fares by being here instead of Kabul.

Anyway, Fahim’s story seemed to resonate with Channel 4 News viewers, and a small number of them contacted me offering to compensate him for his lost taxi business.

So last weekend, Fahim received a surprise knock on the door back home in Kabul, where he was given a small sum of money, enough to double his disability pension for this year; enough to pay for his children’s education and to help get his family through the coming winter.

The photographer John Wendle took these photographs of Fahim and his family, beaming at the generosity of Britons he had never met but who had nevertheless been moved by his story on our programme.

Fahim didn’t do too well in the Paralympics. I am no expert in “power lifting”, but the winner in his category lifted almost twice as much weight as he did.

However, given that Fahim has no trainer, and works out in a gym where used clutches from old trucks are used as weights, this is hardly surprising. And as Fahim told me himself, most Afghans are just struggling to get by rather than wondering how the country’s sole Paralympian is performing.

He got to fly his war-torn nation’s flag at the opening ceremony, and he now marvels at a situation whereby Afghans are fighting and killing British troops and yet he has been made so very welcome here in Britain; his loneliness, I hope, a distant memory.

Follow @jrug on Twitter.