RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
David, I've been to Afghanistan many times. But this next story is a surprise even to me and apparently also our Kabul correspondent, Sean Carberry...
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
MONTAGNE: ...who discovered Afghanistan's National Juggling Championship a few days ago when he attended the event.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Morning traffic in Kabul can be punishing enough as it is. But today, there's an extra element clogging up the streets. It's a parade of about a hundred young boys and girls, dressed in colorful T-shirts and headscarves, and they're juggling. They are juggling tennis balls, batons, things that look like big Whac-A-Mole bats, all walking down the streets, some on stilts, some on unicycles. It's not a scene you see in Kabul on a typical day.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
CARBERRY: The parade snakes its way around the neighborhood and back into the compound of the Kabul Mini Circus. There's what looks like a giant birdcage for acrobatics, and a stage and performance area for the circus's 350 students.
ZACH WARREN: Hi, my name is Zach Warren and I'm an American volunteer with the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children. The circus is free. Anyone can come, as long as they maintain a certain GPA in school. And right now, we are witnessing the National Afghan Circus Championships, which include primarily juggling competitions.
CARBERRY: This is the eighth annual national juggling competition and the kids here - seemingly levitating balls and pins - are the winners of preliminary rounds in seven different provinces.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
(SOUNDBITE OF JUGGLING PINS)
CARBERRY: The tournament begins with the A group, the oldest boys in the competition. They're teenagers, many sporting thin mustaches. These kids are good, some juggling five balls for minutes on end. There are points for endurance and tricks, which elicit cheers from the kids.
CARBERRY: Warren, an expert juggler himself, is scoring one of the contestants.
WARREN: That's eight points because he stopped with two and went with the other two. Ooh, that's a shower - that's 10 points.
ZAHID RAHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: Twelve-year-old Zahid Rahman says juggling is teaching him about shapes and angles, which he says will help him be a better engineer when he grows up.
HAWA GUL: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: Eleven-year-old Hawa Gul from Kabul juggled five balls in the competition today. As much as she likes juggling and the circus, she hopes to be a lawyer someday.
Warren says the main goal of the circus is to instill self-confidence in the kids.
WARREN: And if you can establish that it doesn't matter what field they go into; any field, they're going to be more competent in.
MORTAZA: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: Sixteen-year-old Mortaza, from Herat, says his father encouraged him to get into the sport. He practices two to three hours a day, and he hopes to be a professional juggler. Mortaza placed third in last year's tournament.
MORTAZA: It's a great opportunity for the youth in Afghanistan. And it's nice that I'm seeing different people from different provinces and from both genders.
FAHIM FAYAZ: Afghanistan is a traditional society. And the girls are here until the age of 14, 15, and 16 years old.
CARBERRY: Fahim Fayaz has worked at the circus for nine years. He says that when the girls reach their middle teens, it becomes unacceptable for them to mix with the boys.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: The award ceremony finally begins. Fourteen-year-old Samim from Kabul is declared the winner of the A group.
CARBERRY: He's awarded a used bicycle, a girl's model.
Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.
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