Yulduz and Fariba Hashimi: fleeing the Taliban in pursuit of a dream

It’s a steamy June afternoon in the midst of an Italian heatwave. It hasn’t rained in over a month. However, grey clouds are gathering and the humidity is rapidly rising. A storm is on its way. The kind that only happens here once a summer.

Two sisters are in the Dolomites’ foothills, about to begin a 10km climb to the top of a small mountain. Three of their teammates and best friends are with them.

It’s a lovely path. Few cars are on the road up, and the reward is a breathtaking view of a Veneto village.

They keep going. There are 17 winding bends, each numbered. They are top-tier cyclists, among the best in their country. They’re not used to riding around corners, and they’re certainly not used to cycling in driving rain.

It’s a long way from the dusty landscape of northern Afghanistan, where the rubbled roads are often unsafe to walk on.

They pause at the top to take in the view of their new home. Raindrops fall from their helmets in torrents. It’s time to leave. “See you at home!” they grin as they take off on the descent.

Even before the Taliban returned, cycling had never been easy for the sisters.

Fariba and Yulduz Hashimi were born in one of Afghanistan’s most remote and conservative provinces, where women cycling was practically unheard of.

A local cycle race was held in their Faryab province in the north in 2017. The sisters, who were 14 and 17 at the time, decided to take part.

But there was one minor issue. They had no idea how to ride a bike.

They borrowed a neighbor’s one afternoon to practice. They finally got the hang of it after a few hours.

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