Thursday, November 19, 2009
Haji Abdul Rashid has big plans: corporate sponsors, television rights and beyond. It’s a brand new sport that is sweeping the world, East, West, North, South. Well, not quite the West, or the South, and maybe not the whole North, and just a little of the East. Actually, truthfully, it's just Afghanistan.
"We want it to become an Olympic sport," says Rashid as he fires his Ak-47 into the sky in excitement. Hadji heads the Buzkashi Federation and he is amped that his sport, the sport of Buzkashi, can finally thrive. What in the name of Jesus Herbert Walker Christ is Buzkashi you might be asking? Indeed! Buzkashi is the most bad-ass new game on the planet. Move over rugby, American football, European football and basketball. What could be more fast paced than chess? What could possibly be more awesome than badminton? What sport can be more gentleman oriented than lawn darts? Buzkashi is the game you son of a motherless goat! How can you not know this when Afghans have known it for decades!?
Buzkashi, which means "goat grabbing," isn’t the same kind of goat grabbing you would think. Buzkashi doesn’t take place in the Afghan bedroom and the feet aren’t tied to prevent that always crippling kick in the dick. This is a different sport altogether. There really are no rules to this game because you simply cannot apply rules to awesome. Awesome knows no bounds.
How do you play Buzkashi you’re probably wondering since I’ve failed to tell you thus far. Let me tell you my friends. Players, called chapandaz, we’ll just call third world nutters who don’t have jobs or any actual purpose in life. They gallop at nut-busting speeds across a desolate surface such as a dusty-ass field and they kick the shit out of each other from horseback while trying to wrench the carcass of some form of small mutilated livestock from the (cold, dead... if necessary) hands of their comrades. And as you'll notice from the photo below, they do it wearing 80's style Russian tank crew headgear. What could possibly be more fucking extreeeeeme! Nothing... THAT'S WHAT!
The game consists of two main forms: Tudabarai and Qarajai. Tudabarai is considered to be the simpler form of the game. First you have find a goat or a baby cow (calf) the cuter and more pathetic looking the better. You want to pick a sad-sac son of a motha with big dopey eyes. When you find him you want to grab him and wrestle him to the ground, pull out your knife, and violently saw off his head while he makes the noises that baby cows make while they're being brutally murdered by the cousin of geico caveman. Try not to get blood in your eye! You can then give the head to your son if he's young enough because third world kids use them like teddy bears. Be sure not to give it to your daughter because she is female and therefore only 1/4 of a human and not worth a murdered baby cow head. Next you slice open his belly and let his blood flow like wine. Yank out his insides and save those because they’ll be a tasty morsel later. Finally, you will need to hack off his tiny legs at the knees, you may discard these, or attach a chain and make a sweet pair of redneck nanchuku. If you’re truly a swinging dick you can fill the carcass with sand as well. Soak it and let it fester in cool water for a day or two and let the fun begin. Bitchin’!! Try to hold on to your load because the game hasn’t even started yet.
Now, in the simple version you get on your trusty steed, I call mine Abu Hamzaa Bin Al Rasheed Ibn Dar Al Silver and you ride like hell is trying to conquer your anus. You’ll want to scoop up the carcass and try not to tear your arm off or fall from your horse and shatter your spine while doing it because there are no doctors in Afghanistan you silly bastard. This means you’ll need to slow from a full “bat out of hell” run. Once you’ve picked up the corpse you just go like your life depends on it, in any direction until you get away from all of the other players, one of the other steals the corpse, or your horse dies of exhaustion. One time, we started a game in Karachi and by the time I finally scored a point I was on the edge of Siberia. That shit was intense!
If you’re really a stickler for rules. For all of you fuddy duddy’s that need an actual purpose to the things you do, there is Qarajai. In Qarajai you need the same carcass described above but in this version you won’t benefit by running all the way to Kazakhstan. You must carry the body around a flag or marker at one end of the field, then dump it into a scoring circle the "Circle of Justice"at the other end. No, really, it’s really called the circle of justice.
Don’t forget, no cheating, you can’t use meat hooks or cargo straps to hold onto the calf. You can, however, carry a whip, in your teeth if you like, for thwacking your rivals in their cranium. You can use the whip to thrash opposing horses and players. You aren't really, technically, supposed to hit other players, but nobody really cares. I’ve found that if you aim for the face it works best. Opposing riders can’t get your goat if you whip out their eyes! What do you mean that is a little extreme? Nothing is too extreme in for the Moujahadeen! Horsemen are frequently carried away and in their excitement they will bump, jar, pummel, and attempt to maim opponents. When they return, they are usually bruised or have broken limbs and some of the most extreme ones even come back dead. Sometimes, they choose a site to play near a river and so that drowning their opponents can also be a possibility. The Afghans play for very high stakes and take the game very seriously. It is not uncommon for riders to continue in the game with cracked ribs, broken limbs and various head injuries. The only thing that isn’t allowed is actually shooting one another. You’ll have to wait until after the match for that.
Buzkashi is often compared to polo. Both games are played by people on horseback, both involve propelling an object toward a goal, and both get fairly rough. The only difference is that polo is played with a ball and Buzkashi is played with a rotting corpse. Polo matches are played for fixed periods totaling about an hour; traditional Buzkashi may continue for days or until the carcass falls apart, or until the maggots an stench become unbearable, but in its more regulated tournament version also has a limited match time. Also, in Buzkashi, galloping horses regularly spill off the field, sending terrified spectators running for their very lives. Some games are played with 12-man teams; others are scored individually with hundreds of horses careening haphazardly around the field.
A single referee runs around the field with a megaphone trying desperately to avoid being trampled into a horrific, bloody, smear spot in the sand and to announce when a rider scores. After scoring, riders are handed a cash prize, which they tuck into their tunics before riding back onto the field. On this day, the prize is the equivalent of about $80, but awards can be more than $1,000 for prominent matches.
Serious Buzkashi players train intensively for years. I’ll ask you to take a moment now to join me now in my imagination land, and begin the training montage. There is a man, he has a thick, black beard filled with fleas, a filthy white dish towel adorns his head, he sits atop an emaciated stallion with the Hindu Kush to his back, his eyes burn with the passion for his sport... well, his one eye does, the other was shot out by a Russian in the 80's... Eye of the tiger is pumping! Slow motion gallop, others around him, none at his level. He pictures good times had with his dead friend Apollo Bin Sultan Al Akbar. Apollo used to be his biggest competitor but they became teammates and great friends until Apollo was killed in an unfair Match by the whip of Ivan Dar’im Al Drago. He’s riding his horse up mountains carrying goats made of stones. He’s doing roman chair sit-ups from the saddle of his horse. He’s whipping a frozen carcass in a butcher shop. He’s ripped, he’s ready, he’s 40 years old and looks like he’s 80. He is going to take revenge on Ivan.
Alright, enough of that, back into reality. That man is a master (called chapandaz). Playing well also requires specially trained horses that know to stop still when a rider is thrown and to gallop forcefully when their rider gets hold of the calf. These horses can sell today for as much as US$10,000 to 15,000. In case you aren’t sure, that is effectively 3 times the GDP of Afghanistan. The riders may not own the horses they ride in competition. Most of the Buzkashi horses belong to men who can afford to buy them and hire trainers. Who exactly these men are in Afghanistan has yet to be determined.
Winners are awarded prizes of turbans, cash or rifles. Usually, the owner of the horseman also awards the horseman a prize, as his horse gains fame in victory. An adept horseman can generally get any horse he wants to use in an important Buzkashi match. Many of the greatest players are swarmed by all the hottest groupies in the country as well... they are like rockstars. Granted, all the groupies are men because women would have their heads smashed with rocks for acting groupie-like in Afghanistan, but still!
Buzkashi continues until a team is announced the winner. At the end of the game, a horse race is arranged which is known as 'paiga' . Horses used in paiga races are different from those meant for Buzkashi. Some ride their mounts bare-back and others use a thin saddle blanket. Younger boys are not allowed to participate in such races because race horses are not saddled. and if they die in a horse race then who will be left that is nieve enough to become the next generation of suicide bombers?
Buzkashi is undergoing a renaissance in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted from power by U.S. forces in 2001. There are more games, players and spectators than ever before. Rashid says he has already contacted some Olympic officials. Holy Horseshit Batman! Olympic officials? Could it be true? Oh lord say that it’s true!
Once dominated by powerful warlords or tribal leaders, Buzkashi is attracting a new generation of businessmen who are using the game to meet contacts and get clients, explains Said Maqsud, who owns a Kabul-based security company that employs more than 1,000 people. "That is a new concept," Maqsud says. "Now businessmen like me can be involved." Nobody is quite sure what “business” this may be and whether it has anything to do with products other than poppies but that is another issue.
Rashid knows the game needs to be standardized to export the sport, played principally in Afghanistan and some Central Asian countries. Previous efforts to impose consistent rules have gone nowhere. This confuses Rashid since it is well known that Afghans are so prone toward the tendencies to follow order and reason and to quickly adapt to, adopt, and follow the latest and newest trends to come about. Afghanistan is, after all, known as the Paris of the Middle East. What? What? I’m actually being told that this is not what Afghanistan is called. It could be though, or maybe it’s that Paris is turning into the Afghanistan of France. Heh, oh well, anyhow.
"It's very violent," says Maqsud, who also has seven Buzkashi horses. "Animal rights activists wouldn't like it." This blogger is sure that this shouldn’t really be a problem for Maqsud, since the Olympics are not really a large and/or widely publicized event that would be likely to draw the attention of animal rights types anyhow.
A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, Mark Adams, said he was not aware of any overtures from Buzkashi officials. He said there might be concerns that the sport is not widely known and has no governing body that regulates it. "I'm not sure it's a universal sport," Adams said. For those of you who aren’t sure exactly what he meant, please allow me to translate. First:
“There might be concerns that the sport is not widely known” = Nobody has a clue that your Neanderthal, third world, blood sport even exists and I’m not sure they wouldn’t be appalled if they did.
“No governing body that regulates it” = An unholy clusterfuck
“I’m not sure it's a universal sport" = You people are bloody nutters! This is never going to be featured on ESPN
Afghans love the game. On a recent Friday on the outskirts of Kabul, spectators begin arriving midmorning to watch a practice match. An old man sells peanuts from a wheelbarrow. A policeman sits on the hood of his car, his AK-47 across his knees.
The Taliban, tried to ban this “sport” along with pretty much everything else that might be misconstrued as “fun” did manage to fail at that. It managed to thrive in the mountainous north, under the control of powerful anti-Taliban commanders.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban imposed a rule that prevented the use of a carcass, allowing only the skins of calves or goats stuffed with straw. The Taliban considered it sinful to kill an animal without using its meat. Buzkashi enthusiasts, such as Rashid, still speak bitterly of that era. The stuffed skins easily tore apart.
Recently, buzkashi played a role in the Afghan election. One of the game's largest patrons in Kabul is Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a vice president and a controversial figure because of his background as a notorious warlord. He sponsors many matches, which isn't lost on the audiences.
The game's recent boom in popularity gives Rashid hope that Buzkashi can attract a world audience. He imagines exhibition games in Europe and big corporate sponsors. Rashid says players would even be willing to play with an artificial leather carcass if an international audience objects to a dead calf or goat. This blogger is sure that Rashid has nothing to worry about. The world is going to embrace the sport of calf carcass horse rugby just like it embraced Football. There is some speculation that former Buzkashi player, bad-ass mercenary, and sometimes misunderstood Vietnam veteran, John James Rambo is being recruited to be the coach of the very first American team.
When asked about this possibility, Mr. Rambo shot our correspondent in the face with an explosive tipped arrow. Representatives for Mr. Rambo also had no comment.
And to those who complain about the game's violence, Rashid has a ready response: "What about professional wrestling? Why is that acceptable?" That’s right Rashid, don’t you let them kill your dreams, you just keep on keepin’ on my friend.
The story that I butchered came from here.